The Experience

Bhavik Patel, Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition

I took SISU-240 International Development in order to gain a richer understanding on the ways in which the world has been shaped to what it looks like today. This class aimed to infiltrate indoctrinated narratives of power, authority, and freedom. We examined the ways in which the world was shaped by colonialism, and how each period of history subsequentley reacts to the relics of the past, and makes strides towards the future. One key ingredient in this examination was people. People who have been marginalized, who have been stripped of their freedoms, and who have been enslaved. These systems that have been created try to supersede the inclusion of peoples. It looks past the reaities of what power and authority has done to the colonized world. The world developed in the context of the West, without regard for the non-Western.

When the spokesperson came into class one day early on in the semester and plugged the Community Service Learning Program, I was floored. To me, one key issue with education in total sum has been my ability to act upon my thoughts and ideas. Here was an opportunity to act. I was presented with an opportunity to interact with people. It was a chance to learn what kind of work the academic sources of Development are directly in conversation with. I knew I had to look into the program.

With American University’s resources available, I found sites that sounded like they needed help to do good work. I found so many organizations and movements that were mouth watering at how much I knew I would learn. I wanted to be centered in my life. I wanted to get a taste of the world outside of my safe bubble in Tenleytown. The Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition offered exactly this. It gave me an opportunity to work with the disenfranchised of our community. The Virgina, Maryland and D.C. area has not been immune to the crackdown of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on immigrant communities under the current administration. I see videos on Facebook and Twitter of the kind of criminal activity that this branch of American government does. If you had told me a few months ago that I could do more to help mend and aid the people most effected by ICE raids, I would’ve been ecstatic and curious.

The work at CAIR Coalition enabled me to talk directly with immigrants who were being lined up for deportation. The people I was speaking with had family, and friends and lives just like me. As a volunteer on the Detention Hotline at CAIR, I was the person they relied on when they called in from detention centeres in the DMV area to give them updates on their case, and aid their fight for their livelihoods. I was able to help their case in fighting the American judicial sytem in helping them avoid certain promise of death and poverty as a result of deportation. The world needs more people in it like those who worked at CAIR Coalition. I learned invalubale characteristics of teamwork when I was immersed in their circles of compassion and empathy in order to strive towards a more equitable world. I was filed with hope throught the long hours that they would put in past my usual 5’o’clock check out time. I was reminded of the work that is to be done too. I saw the gridning of the bureacratic systems in place. I was reminded of the injustices of the police state in the United States. I was taught who the faces of alienation from American hegemony were. I could relate the people we read about in our Development textbook, who didn’t have autonomy over their freedom. People who had to be enslaved to systems of justice and economic security in the West suddenley jumped from case studies on the Mulitlateral Development Banks and the Western states, it suddenley became about right here. It became about the heart of this empire, and the people marginalized from being included within it.


Henry Summ, DC Books to Prisons

The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population and at the same time more than 25% of the world’s prisoners. Nearly 1 in every 100 American adults is incarcerated, and many of them have little access to books or educational material. One need only look at states like New York, where literature is limited to a handful of approved titles, to understand that American prisons are not currently places for rehabilitation and empathy, but for profiting off inhumane living conditions. In a course I took this semester on the politics of policing, incarceration, and race (SISU-379), I learned of the factors that led the American criminal justice system to adopt harsher sentences in the 1970s and ‘80s and of the impact the “war on crime” had on minority families. The class made it clear that prisoners are not inherently corrupt or violent individuals, but rather they are too often the victims of unjust circumstances. These trends were troubling and prompted me to seek exposure to proper rehabilitation and reintegration programs in order to study how empathy can be applied in American prisons.

Through American University’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP), I volunteered with DC Books to Prisons, a non-profit organization that redistributes donated books to incarcerated individuals. Its goal is to increase prisoners’ access to all types of literature and provide pen pal correspondence with seasoned volunteers. My role was to sort and pack donated books so that they could be shipped to prisons across the country. Doing so required reading letters from prisoners that indicated their personal preferences, including genres and specific titles and authors. After assembling a few relevant texts, I would write a personal note describing the rationale behind my selection and extending my best wishes. When I noticed certain shelves becoming bare, I organized a book drive in my residence hall to collect those high in demand genres.

In SISU-379, I learned that the overwhelming number of incarcerated people in the United States (Figure 1) has led to overcrowding in American prisons. This was evident in my volunteer work: periodically I’d come across letters from individuals incarcerated in Arizona with Californian identification numbers. California transfers prisoners out-of-state in order to alleviate prison crowding, but its prisons are still operating above 100% capacity, which contributes to poor living conditions.

Figure 1: This chart depicts the increase in the state and federal prison population from 1925-2015. The spike in the 1970s and 1980s is due in part to mandatory minimum sentences, the impossibility of parole, and a crackdown on nonviolent drug-related crime.


Figure 1 was found here:

It seemed to me that for prisoners, reading provides both an escape from this daily life and a way to learn new skills that they can utilize in the workforce upon their release. I saw firsthand that they have diverse interests and possess a desire to learn. What good, then, does it do to impose draconian sentences on those who have broken the law in innocuous ways, especially without considering how to prepare those prisoners for rejoining society?

Empathetic approaches, like those undertaken at DC Books to Prisons, require identifying what someone else is thinking or feeling and validating those emotions. In my role, responding to prisoners meant briefly putting myself in their shoes to assess their requests and then determining which books from the available selection on the shelves they might enjoy. I also may not necessarily have had the same life experiences as them, but I think my prior knowledge of why many prisoners end up incarcerated in the first place allowed me to empathize by suppressing any preconceptions.

Overall, my experience with DC Books to Prisons this semester was a positive one. It was a pleasure to work with the other volunteers, as they also all expressed such genuine care and concern for the people writing to us. While SISU-379 showed at the macro level how the American criminal justice system mistreats prisoners, my volunteer work potentially illustrates one way in which recognizing another’s humanity and providing adequate support can promote a prisoner’s personal development.


Caitlin Mensah, Isaiah House

My name is Caitlin Mensah, and I was pleased to complete a CSLP credit for the Spring 2018 semester at American University. I worked with So Others Might Eat (SOME) for my volunteerism, and the class that I connected my credit to was Introduction to Health Promotion by professor Jody Gan. SOME is a community-based organization that provides individuals of the homeless and underserved population in Washington DC, a multitude of different health services from mental health support to support pertaining to substance abuse issues. Isaiah House which is the under So Others Might Eat, serves in-house clinical services to their participants and visitors as well. Isaiah House is where I worked during my time at SOME. It is a day program in which individuals can come to partake in social conversation and interaction with other participants in the home. They can also enter into Isaiah House to receive basic needs that they could be lacking in such as showering, laundry, and they have the chance to eat at least two meals (breakfast and lunch with snacks in between.) I have had prior experience in working with the organization before, and I believe so profoundly in their tenets and the work that they do for the community that I decided to work with them again. However, this time around because I have now been in Washington, DC for almost an entire academic school year, there was a multitude of aspects that I did not notice my first time around that I believe is worthy of critical analyzation and attention.


SOME is located in NOMA which a neighborhood in Washington, DC currently going through a massive restoration period. There is a new building on almost every street. So much so that the second someone gets off the metro and enter onto the streets, they can smell fresh cement and can visually see the plethora of tall wood structures from miles of away. With new buildings and “restoration,” comes gentrification and displacement of the residents who live in this ward. Gentrification is an exceedingly significant issue that is happening every day in Washington, DC and its effects are adverse on multiple populations from those who are minorities to those who are of the lower-income population. Some of the services as mentioned earlier apply to individuals who have issues regarding substance abuse as well.


Now, in examining the juxtaposition of homelessness to substance abuse, because the two can be so interconnected, it is scary to realize that individuals are going through these states of living and then they have gentrification being placed into their equation. Substance abuse is also a widespread issue in Washington, DC and the rates are rising due to the alarming opioid crisis not only in Washington DC but also across the states as a whole. Those living on the streets statistically speaking have a more substantial chance of turning to abuse of drugs and alcohol to get by and this not only affects their way of life, but it pours over into their mental health as well. Some individuals have firsthand dealt with the adverse effects of gentrification in the city, and because of this, they have turned to alcohol and drugs to substitute their low mental health, but this is only ironically making their mental health issues worse.


Fatima Bah is the supervisor who runs and is a backbone of Isaiah House. When she and I first spoke, she conveyed how some of the participants at Isaiah House and SOME, believe that some of the buildings in the neighborhood of NOMA could be to them. Fatima has to convey to them how the buildings they are seeing are not there for them. When I heard this was a common issue I was hurt, but nothing was more disheartening when I was asked myself.

Taking a participant to the van so they can receive a ride home, I hear the question “Is that building for us?” The building this participant was talking about has been in the process of being built since at least August when I first visited SOME, and it’s construction even negatively affects the participants on the way to SOME. A few of the participants have complained that some days, they cannot get to SOME of they have to go a longer route to get to SOME because construction blocks the regular path that they like to take. The effect of gentrification on the homeless population in conjunction with individuals dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse, is failing the people.


SOME, though it is doing fantastic work for this specific population is one of the only organizations that have managed to stay and keep running for their participants. They have managed to stay afloat due to good volunteer rates and a fantastic staff in which they care for the participants. Because I have worked in different areas at Isaiah House from conducting health groups to serving lunch in the kitchen, I have been able to observe how the staff and SOME and Isaiah House are continually having to think outside the box to make sure that their participants are comfortable and safe. However, what happens when organizations can no longer serve individuals of the homeless population. What happens when individuals have been displaced to the point where they no longer have the energy to travel to SOME because it is too far?


In both my coursework as well as my volunteerism with SOME, I have encountered one of the most significant public health concerns of the century. I have always learned in my classes that in the past we have acted as a nation focused on treatment rather than prevention, but after working at SOME firsthand for the second time, I have seen that come full circle. I have now seen this ideal first hand, and I realize that there is a significant need to confront things head-on before they get out of control. The participants at SOME tell me stories and inside I know that if only someone had been willing to help them from a young age or had been willing to veer them off a path connected to the roots of substance abuse and homelessness they may have been better. Regardless, these individuals are filled with hope and prosperity. Irrespective of the curveballs life has thrown at them; they continue to fight. From hearing stories of participants being inspired to go back to school to participants finding jobs and their own places to live, I know that we are beginning to do better. The solution appears to be simple, but there is a multitude of factors that affect these participants and as a public health major, I have learned that those factors start young and genuinely do follow youth into their adult years. My time at SOME has taught me that those factors need to be addressed in childhood.


In short, Homelessness can happen to anyone, and anyone can have their mental health affected due to a multitude of factors, but it is what we do to help these individuals that matters the most. Factors like gentrification need to be addressed on a policy level, and adequate access to healthcare for different populations must be achieved as well.

Fernanda Carlosama Ruiz, IONA

IONA senior services is an organization that works to provide a wide range of services for the aging population in DC. Located at St. Alban’s church, the faith-placed Active Wellness program is just one branch of IONA. Active Wellness is a day program where DC residents over the age of 60 can socialize, engage in art projects, participate in exercise classes and more. The activities are tailored for the older participants, for example, twice a month there is an event called “Our Human Bodies” with Dr. Thom Bowles where participants can ask the doctor general questions about their health. Also, the exercise classes include stretching to alleviate back pain, a focus on rotator cuffs, and leg strength, with tips on preventative care in case of falls and muscle injury. In addition to this, a nutrient dense meal is provided each day. This organization is working to fulfill the needs of the aging population by providing a space for senior citizens to stay active, well-nourished and involved in their community.

Throughout the semester I was primarily involved in preparing and serving the meals. Armed with a hairnet and gloves, I helped plate all of the pre-prepared meals and assisted with distributing them to the participants. In health promotion, we learned about MyPlate, a visual depiction of the USDA Dietary Guidelines. It calls for mostly fruits and vegetables with, a quarter of the plate representing protein and a quarter grains. The plates were always colorful, and it was evident that the government funded meals followed the nutrition guidelines. The meals were also served with a cup of milk, which is also represented in MyPlate.

Although the food service was fun, my favorite part of the experience was engaging in lively conversations around the room. Social isolation is a threat to the aging population, and IONA works to unite the community and reduce loneliness among older people who have retired or live alone. On weekdays, the atrium of St.Alban’s is full of laughter and noise. I had some interesting conversations with the program participants about their life stories, the things they wish they had done differently, and their views on current events. I always walked out of IONA feeling like I had learned something completely new. Additionally, on some days, students from the nearby elementary school visit IONA to play bingo or do arts and crafts with their “grand-friends”. It was enlightening to see the age gaps melt away through colorful drawings of leaves and fish. This rejuvenated the program participants while also teaching younger kids about how to interact with older people who may have certain disabilities, such as limited mobility or dementia.

The program would not be what it is without the program director, Courtney Tolbert. Watching her interact with the participants and tackle the daily issues that arose with a smile, taught me a great deal about leadership. With everything she did, she put the program participants first and did everything in her power to accommodate their needs, even in the most difficult moments. She brought a calming, joyous presence to the program, and I will never forget her kindness and warmth. Overall, this experience has affirmed my interest in public health, and I hope to continue to be involved in the future.

Melanie Friedel, Horace Mann Elementary

I remember being impressed and amazed during my first tour of Horace Mann Elementary School. I was greeted in the lobby by the sound of the peaceful trickle of water behind a wall of luscious vegetation, and charmed throughout the hallways by student-created signs encouraging energy conservation. My elementary school as a child was certainly not this advanced; it’s incredible that these students will learn the importance of connecting with nature from an early age. The school’s mission is to celebrate curiosity, connection, community, and environmental and nature education. There are native gardens, lots of green spaces and a very sunny and biophilic architectural design. I chose this organization as my CSLP site because, as an Environmental Science major, I am particularly interested in sustainable food and agriculture systems, which is also a part of Horace Mann’s programs. I have been connecting my volunteer work to my International Food and Agriculture Politics course, a Special Topics section of SISU-350.

Horace Mann has a Garden to Table Program to teach students about the importance of local, fresh and healthy food. In the program, crops are planted and cultivated in the indoor Messy Lab and when the plants are ready, the students have the opportunity to plant them outside at Mann Farms and learn to care for them. Herbs, lettuce and other greens are also grown indoors and on the rooftop with aeroponic towers (a vertical gardening technology), and these greens are used to make a weekly salad for the students. I have been volunteering as an intern in the Garden to Table Program, where I inspect and maintain the crops growing on aeroponic towers, plant and care for seed trays under grow lights, and help the flow of crop movement and growth go smoothly. I also help out with the vermicompost, in which vegetable and plant waste decompose, combined with newspaper, occasional water mist, and earthworms to help move things along. The worms eventually create a nutrient-rich material that can be used as sustainable fertilizer in the farms. I maintained and inspected the compost bin with other interns.

Going into this program, I was hoping to learn about the physical experience of growing food and working with plants and about the actual process of sustainable farming. In several courses, I have learned theories in support of local food, sustainable and urban farming, community engagement, and the viability of new technologies like the aeroponic towers at Horace Mann, so the desire to be a part of these things in a hands-on, outside-of-the-classroom way is what brought me to volunteer at Horace Mann. Because of fluctuating weather patterns this season, we haven’t gotten to transplant any crops into the outdoor plots yet, so I haven’t had the chance to dig in the dirt outside, but my expectation of learning the inner workings of vertical systems was certainly met.

It has been really exciting and inspiring to work in a community that prioritizes critical issues of healthy, fresh and nutritious food and sustainable agriculture. It has been especially interesting to see how urban agriculture systems function; they are very time and energy intensive. It takes organization to keep charts and logs of every propagated crop, it takes attention to detail to inspect each seedling and survey the health of newborn tomato plants, and it takes time to place one pepper seed a quarter of an inch deep in each of 108 Rockwool cubes. This experience has allowed me to understand more about the content I discuss in class; now, rather than just thinking of aeroponic towers as a futuristic solution to all of our problems of agriculture, I know how it really works, what goes into it, and the complex planning, knowledge, and care that is required for vertical farming.

But the effort I put in has been worth the reward: seeing children get excited about worms, plants, and especially the chicks and chickens that were added to the program just a few weeks ago. There’s something fulfilling about seeing and smelling several towers of lush, flourishing basil that just a month ago was a seed in an unopened packet, and watching that cycle come full circle, knowing that the students will be eating fresh, organic pesto next week, and knowing that I had a part in making that happen.

Margaret Bernauer, Young Ladies of Tomorrow

Hi my name is Maggie Bernauer, I am a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and I am majoring in CLEG. I added on the CSLP credit to my Writing 101 course. For my community service-learning project, I worked with an organization called Young Ladies of Tomorrow. YLOT is an aftercare program that works with young girls who have entered the juvenile justice system. The mission of this organization is to address the needs of at risk urban females and help them to identify a root issue and grow and learn as young adults. The social issue this organization is addressing is the racial and economic disparities within the juvenile justice system and how to ensure at-risk youth get a fair chance at life. The work I have been doing is relating to one of their summer programs called Summer Youth Employment Program, I am developing the curriculum for this program. Once the program starts, I will still be working with program in leading the lessons plans that I created during the semester. For this program, I expected there to be more guidance in the work I was doing. When there was no guidance at all and just a curriculum I had to plan, I just did the work to the best of my ability. Which taught me a big lesson, because I realized after having to redo some of the work that it is better to ask questions about things up front and communicate to understand what exactly they want from me and so everyone is on the same page. Since my writing 101 course is rooted in social justice I have been able to connect the social justice issues I have been exposed to at YLOT to the scholarly articles and discussions we have had in writing about racial, gender, and economic issues. I have learned that it is important to speak up for yourself in a work place to have good communication. Also when in small organizations like YLOT all help and work is useful and it is important to be engaged and interested in your work.

Julia Flum, Martha’s Table

Throughout my childhood and even today, I have always been told “do not judge a book by its cover”. Just as if were not to choose a class by its name and how we should read the description first I knew I had to take the class “Poverty and Culture” with Professor Curtin. Poverty and Culture was a class perfect for me because both the words “poverty” and “culture” captivated my attention. Since, I have an increasing passion for giving back within the community, I knew if I took this class it would be beneficial to increase my knowledge about the history and modern day poverty. Throughout my entire life, I have always been involved with volunteering for nonprofit organizations, organizing food and clothing drives, as well as helping to end the war on poverty and hunger. The CSLP program was a perfect fit because I would be able to connect the coursework to the real world. Through the coursework in the class, I learned about the history and origin of poverty as well as the ongoing fight for equality within the impoverished parts of the United States.

My name is Julia Flum, and I am a law and society major here at American University. For my spring semester, I have had the privilege to volunteer with an impactful organization called Martha’s Table. Martha’ Table was established over 37 years ago in order to promote more courageous children, families and communities. Martha’s Table has a passion to provide a quality education, affordable clothing, and healthy free meals in order to secure a better future for D.C. residents. Additionally, Martha’s Table constituted a safe space for community members to receive support such as welcoming a no-cost mini market, a food truck that goes to established downtown D.C. locations, a distributed hot meals, as well as an affordable outlet store for community members to shop. In addition to community support, education programs are also included in this amazing organization. The education program is an early childhood, healthy start program that helps children ensure the skills they need to ensure academic and life success. The food access program ensures access to healthy, fresh, food that supports strong families, children and communities. There are multiple robust markets throughout the month in which Martha’s Table brings to community centers.

Martha’s Table is a prominent organization that addresses multiple social issues. The social issues addressed within this organization are; poverty, hunger, and education. For example, Martha’s Table is helping to fight against poverty and hunger by serving free healthy meals to D.C. residents. I volunteered for dinner and dishes, which was where I helped arrange meals, distribute meals, and cleaned the dishes. For this volunteer opportunity, we set up a table outside which included a hot and cold drink, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a meat sandwich, which was donated by schools or companies, a hot dinner, and snacks. Anyone can come outside of Martha’s Table and be served a healthy, warm, and delicious meal. My first time volunteering with dinner and dishes I expected hundreds of people waiting to be served, but I realized there was not that many people in line. In my poverty and culture class, we learned about segregation and homelessness. There were palaces established that incorporated education and food programs just like Martha’s Table did. While operating in the community, I learned that there are so many resources out there for homeless people to go to. There are multiple organizations where they can seek help and free food. As a student in this class, volunteering has demonstrated a vulnerable connection to what I see through my eyes and what I heard and learned in class.

Volunteering can change your world. Giving back to my community has helped me acknowledge the outside world and allows me to realize what happens in my community and how my community is being transformed. By volunteering throughout the semester, I learned that you get more than you give. As I dedicated my time with Martha’s Table, I realized that organizations relied on their volunteers and donors. I recommend to my friends, classmates, and community members to go out there and sign up. Get involved, however you chose, no matter what your background is. You will learn. You will be inspired. You will learn to appreciate life more and more every day.

Beverly Ramos Lopez, Crossroads Community Food Network

My name is Beverly Ramos Lopez and I have always had a strong interest in nutrition and how the importance of it could be shared. Therefore, as a second year in Health Promotion at American University I was able to register for the HPRM 205 Nutrition course. However, because we were going to learn so much great content in the classroom that I wanted to take part outside as I have before through The Community Service Learning Program so I could learn how the knowledge I am learning is relative to my community.

I reached out to Crossroads Community Food Network because their mission is about not just expanding healthy food access but also teaching the young minds in the community how to make health food choices by empowering them. Crossroads first began with the hope of increasing the access of fresh and healthy food to all families in the area. Takoma has various areas in the community that range with different socioeconomic status, but Crossroads makes it their goal to provide for all these household regardless of their background. They hold Crossroads Farmers Market from April until November yearly and were the first Market in Maryland to launch the “double dollar” incentive program. In this way it would allow families to use their federal benefits in a fresh farmer’s market without the fear of not having enough funds to take part. In addition, it empowers community members to take lead in not just where they purchase their food but also on them having a choice to make healthy eating choices, providing a sense of power for their health. Crossroads addresses the issue of providing healthy food access through their Farmers Market to all households regardless of the socioeconomic gap by approving federal benefits and providing many resources for the community.

As a volunteer with Crossroads Community Food Network I assist with the Healthy Eating Program, help with Community Outreach, and help reach a greater audience by now translating resources such as recipes and manuals. In the Healthy Eating Program, I am able to join the children of Piney Branch Elementary School during interactive sessions where they have farmer visits, food tastings, and cooking lessons in order to teach them about healthy eating. For the Community Outreach I travel with other volunteers around the neighborhood in order to share information and promote the Crossroads Farmers Market. We invite everyone and anyone whether it is too little shops nearby or families that are familiar with the area, there is something for everyone at the Market. Since I am bilingual and many members of the Community are part of Spanish speaking households I started to translate some of their resources in order to increase the access they could have not just at the Market but also at home when they look for recipes or wish to know more.

My expectations were somewhat different than what I really do now because I had originally signed up to help with the Healthy Eating Program and Community Outreach. For the Healthy Eating Program, I thought I would be more involved in the process of learning how to lead one of the sessions but I understand that because I am not a staff member they cannot train me if I could only be part of the Program once a week. Therefore, I help mostly with whatever the Health Educator needs but I learned that it is still a great opportunity to gain experience on how nutrition is the main component and drive of their mission. For Community Outreach I thought I would be at booths in different areas and taking part in sharing flyers throughout the community. Since there is no specific area we can reach all the community members we do not stay in one place rather go from door to door to invite everyone. This was not particularly a challenge but it was very different than the outreach I had done before; my communication skills were very crucial in these moments because I had to learn how to approach people in a welcoming manner without making them feel uncomfortable.

As I volunteer I am able to connect general concepts in the classroom to Crossroads’ purpose, the mission expands healthy food access to members in the community. The benefits of shopping at local markets tie in really well to how the Healthy Eating Program brings in farmers into the classrooms to share with the children on what it means to grow fresh produce in a nearby farm. Exposing these insights in the classroom is crucial because it allows children to understand the benefits and risks that come with purchasing processed foods versus purchasing food from the farmer’s market. When they take part in creating their own food it allows them to realize healthy eating is possible and is not just for those who have time or money but can be possible. While volunteering at Crossroads I have learned that teaching about healthy eating involves both effort and resources but it all starts with effort and knowledge becomes the most powerful resource. Thanks to my learning I have taken initiative and sent a proposal to start a Healthy Eating Class in the community youth program I took part of when I was back home, it has been approved and I am now in the process to continue developing the program that will be offered for their summer session.

Allison Halford, SOME-Isaiah House

The District of Columbia is not just the picturesque capital of our nation, with monuments and cherry blossoms. It is a city just like any other that is going through changes. These changes with gentrification are harming D.C. residents. The homeless rates in D.C. are on the rise yet there are few places for them to go to seek shelter, or resources to get out of homelessness. People that are homeless are at higher risk for many diseases, both communicable and chronic, that cause health problems they often do not have coverage for. This gap in care expands to the mentally ill, who are at higher risk for being homeless. The city needs to care about these populations that lack many health resources.

So Others May Eat (SOME) is a community-based organization that provides resources and services for the homeless and poor within D.C. This includes meals, clothing, housing, job training, counseling, and more. SOME has multiple locations that serve different groups within the homeless and poor community. These include the dining hall, clinic, and family center, among others. The location I volunteered with was Isaiah House, a day center for the homeless and mentally ill. Isaiah House provides breakfast and lunch, laundry, shower rooms, toiletries, clothing, counseling services, and a safe environment. The community created by the staff and interns at Isaiah House creates an enjoyable and relaxing environment for participants, with fun activities planned monthly. With different groups like meditation, sound empowerment, health group, and art group there is a clear focus on staying healthy both mentally and physically.

At Isaiah House, my main responsibilities were serving lunch, talking with the clients, and helping with health group. Health group is every week on Wednesdays and the topic changes based on what the clients want to know more about. A medical student working in the SOME clinic comes and presents on an important health topic as she answers their many questions. For two of the weeks I was volunteering, another volunteer and I were in charge of health group focusing on the immune system and smoking. When serving lunch, it is not always the most nutritionally balanced meals, but they are good meals that are provided for the clients. Once a month a chef comes in to do a healthy cooking demonstration and cook lunch the next week. I usually assist the chef with preparing her equipment for the demonstration and serving the lunches she makes. However, the largest aspect of what I do when volunteering is talking with the clients. Communication and connection are very important for mental health. These conversations I have with clients and the relationships I have built with them are important for my learning, both toward my course and in life lessons, and for the client. They love to share about their experiences and to hear about mine. Spending 40 hours with these repeat clients allows me to get to know them beyond their names, and while they do not share their entire story, they like to teach lessons that they wish they knew when they were my age. Having a person to interact with helps combat loneliness, which can negatively harm health.

My experiences at Isaiah House connect in many ways to Intro to Health Promotion HPRM 240. In class, we learn about nutrition and the chef teaches similar things in her cooking demonstrations. These demonstrations are also a good health promotion technique to educate populations about what nutrients are important to get and what foods to find them in. The health groups are usually about things I have learned in health promotion or my other health classes, and I learn the most from hearing the questions from the clients. These show what they do not know about some topics that many people know about. It also reveals a lot about health care and how that system works for those with mental illness or homeless. Many of the clients have at least one health issue, diabetes and hypertension, some of the most common. Many also have problems with receiving health care and have to travel to different centers for different health needs. The lessons I have learned from the clients at Isaiah House and the structure of the center itself, taught me a lot about the concepts I am learning in health promotion. Going into the volunteering I was expecting to learn some about the concepts, but I underestimated the amount of connections to class and how organizations implement health promotion techniques that we learned in class.

Samantha Miller, Common Good City Farm

Environmental justice is a phrase that points out that sadly, those who are poor and politically weak tend to bear the most adverse impacts of environmental inequalities.[i] My work with Common Good City Farm  has been working to alleviate one type of environmental assault, food deserts.  Food deserts are areas where residents don’t have access to full scale grocery stores. The problem in D.C. is so adverse that residents in ward 8 only have three full scale grocery stores for 69,047 residents. [ii] When confronted with this information, I instantly felt a moral obligation to act. This semester, I wanted to work with an urban farm for two reasons, first, I wanted to feel as if I was an active agent for positive change, and secondly, I wanted to expand my understandings of agriculture and farm management.

I am an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies and minoring in international relations. I decided to supplement the work done in my environmental sustainability and global health class by working with the urban farm Common Good City Farm. Common Good is dedicated to increasing the presence of small scale sustainable agriculture in an urban setting. They believe that their work can foster a healthy vibrant community through the provision of fresh produce to residents. They have been around since 2007, and in this time, they have provided over 10 tons of food for the community. They have done this with the help of over 3,000 volunteers, and 4,500 students in educational programs. Their work is targeted towards public health and food policy. The work done through the farm addresses sustainability, public health, nutrition, and food justice.

Each day that I volunteer my duties include preparing the beds for harvest, as well was sowing seeds in the beds. I work with other volunteers and the farm manager to ensure that all beds are the correct size without any weeds, and we work together to germinate seeds and plant various types of greens such as collards, and kale. The past few weeks have taught me a lot more than I originally expected. The process of farming has made me more connected to the methods of creating and growing food, and from this I have gained a greater appreciation and awareness of food production in general. I have a greater appreciation for those who spend their days doing manual labor on farms, because I can now understand all the effort and management it takes to bring food to my plate each day. I feel as if I have gained a well needed practical understanding of food deserts, food policy, and farm management.

One major takeaway from this experience would be that as environmentalists, we need to be more attuned to the communities needs throughout the process of combating environmental inequalities. Within these pasts few weeks the farm has been vandalized three different times, and from discussions with the farm manager, I can understand that this resentment comes from the fact that the community hasn’t been involved with common good in any collaborative manner. Though they have been in the location for 10 years now, community members still view common good as outsiders. This lesson in community dynamics has greatly affected my ideas and perceptions about environmental justice. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with Common good over the semester, and I leave knowing I have gained invaluable experiential knowledge and I can apply this to my studies and jobs in the future.

[i] Paul Wapner and Richard Matthew (2009), “The Humanity of Global Environmental Ethics,” Journal of Environment and Development, Vol. 18, no. 2, May.


Emily Ganem, Horace Mann Elementary School

As classes started this semester, I felt like I wanted to get something more out of my

coursework. I learned about the Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) add-on credit. This was a great option to get more experience in the field of Environmental Studies. I was able to be connected with local organizations that were searching for volunteers and interns to assist with community outreach to help improve and promote environmental sustainability. In the class Intro to Environmental Science (II), we delve into natural resources in the context of sustainability. One thing my professor stresses the importance of is being able to communicate what we learn about the natural world, climate change, and resource management. After all, the information we learn in any class is not valuable if we do not know how to share it.

After showing interest in doing a CSLP add-on credit, I was connected with Horace Mann Elementary School by American University. Mann Farms, a program within the school, has many volunteer interns a semester to help with various parts of educating students from kindergarten through fifth grade on the environment and healthy eating. This program includes aeroponic towers for gardening and harvesting leafy vegetables that are later used in a weekly meal provided to the students at lunch. This also includes a food education class that combines healthy eating and growing food locally. There are also roof top garden beds and a community garden for seasonal gardening.

The main job for me at Horace Mann was working to run the after school farmer’s market program. The school is connected with Common Market, an organization that connects the schools to local family-run farms around the DC area. Parents and the surrounding community can support Mann Farms by placing pre-ordered grocery bags from a list of produce that will be available at the farmer’s market. Once the produce is ordered from the farms by the school, students help to sort produce and bag preorders. One of my main roles was to help different classes each week bag the preorders, but also teach them briefly about sustainable farming and about produce. This part of my CSLP experience was probably my favorite. It surprised me how much students could get excited about nature and where their food came from. It also made me realize that talking about sustainability with young children is a great way to get them to care about environmental issues and bring them home to parents.

My second main role at Horace Mann was to help run the farmer’s market. At the market, I helped the five market club members sell the produce from Common Market. Watching and aiding the members in community outreach and seeing them translate their care for locally and sustainably sourced food to members of the community, and seeing that reflected back from customers, was rewarding.

Horace Mann is very lucky to have the Mann Farms program. Before touring the school, I expected limited resources. Instead, I saw the program affected many parts of the students’ daily activities. The school integrates sustainable practices from food sharing programs to the way the building is designed, to educate the students about healthy environmental practices. Instilling these practices as norms seems to be an effective practice, as many parents volunteer to garden or run nature clubs, and students are already excited when I speak to them about sustainable farming practices.

Miguel Ortiguera, The Carlos Rosario School

My name is Miguel Ortiguera, and I am a political science major in the class of 2020. The CSLP class I am taking is called Poverty and Culture and I am working with the Carlos Rosario School, which focuses on helping immigrants adjust to life in the U.S, learn English, and specifically what I am doing, and gain their citizenship. The Carlos Rosario School is a nonprofit charter school and admission is completely free to those who need it. Their mission is to help immigrants become as successful as they can be in the U.S. At the site I give mock interviews to people who are preparing to take the citizenship exam, and every Wednesday I help teach the citizenship course, which focuses on civics, specific parts of the citizenship exam and gives a chance for students to practice their English. I expected there to be a language barrier with the students, as many of them are immigrants and speak very little English, however the language barrier was much larger than I expected. In the past I’ve had experience with people who don’t speak the best English, but some students have a very hard time speaking English. The citizenship exam is required to be taken in all English unless you meet special requirements and some students have a very hard time understanding that and sticking to all English. In spite of the language barrier, the students I’ve worked with have all been great people and eager to learn, despite some difficulties. Also, some students have really surprised me with their civics knowledge and I could really tell that they worked hard and studied for the exam. In fact, one student I helped already passed her exam and will become a citizen at the next ceremony.

Our class deals with poverty, and while many of the students at Carlos Rosario aren’t destitute their experiences still cover the “culture” part of my class. We have learned that poverty often affects certain groups the most and immigrants, who are the clear majority of Carlos Rosario students, are one of those groups. Seeing how hard these people have to work to overcome language barriers to communicate in day to day life has been enlightening and shows to me how hard some people have to work just to survive daily. In addition, many of the students work during the day and take classes at night further showing how hard they work just to learn English and adjust to the culture of a new country. From the students I’ve learned how much work these immigrants have to do to adjust to life in the U.S, and its no wonder why many of them are impoverished. So my site has reinforced the concepts we’ve learned in class and even added some things.

Sasha Estrada, AYUDA

As a Freshman at American University and seeing everyone finding new ways to get involved on and off campus I wondered how and where I could start. One of the reasons I chose to come to AU last spring was because I had heard about all these students telling me first and how they got involved in the community and were able to give back and that is something I wanted to. I am a political science major and have always showed interest in working in law. Having grown up around a large immigrant population, and my parents coming here from Mexico just a few years before I was born, I had an interest in the immigration aspect and how the process worked.

Second semester came and I had signed up for my writing class that is titled WRTG 101-005 Your Social Justice Revolution. The reason I signed up for the class is because of my increased interest in learning and writing about something I care about, immigration. The first day of class Professor Choutka mentioned to us that because of the course title and the areas we would be covering our class had the option to attach a CSLP credit and complete the 40 hours of community service on a social justice issue we are passionate about. After signing up and meeting with my advisor I ended up at Ayuda.

Ayuda translates to help in English, which I find a fitting name because of the work they do for people. It is an organization that specializes in helping low-income immigrants get the legal, social, and language services they need in the DC metropolitan area. The organization was founded in 1973 and is about to celebrate their 45th anniversary in May. Ayuda has helped me realize that immigration law does not only fall under assisting those through the immigration process, but that it spreads out to other branches of law as well. From domestic violence cases, family law, need for interpreters, immigration, to human trafficking Ayuda helps a wide variety of people get the help they need, especially when they may have been hesitant to seek help otherwise because of their legal status.

At Ayuda I am volunteering under their Domestic Violence and Family Law Branch. I primarily focus on the administrative aspect of what they do. I am in charge of reviewing closed case files and transferring them onto the computer digitally. While this may not appear to be the hands on approach that people primarily look for when volunteering, I am able to see and read firsthand how this organization has helped so many people overtime.  I have also been able to go to events that Ayuda is invited to and most recently went with some staff members to the Victims Legal Network Launch to reveal the opening of another organization that helps connect people to specific organizations within 24 hours. I am glad that I was able to attend the event because I got to hear personal stories, meet other great organizations who do similar work, and even meet people who started out at Ayuda.

Entering my volunteer sight and meeting with the volunteer coordinator Laura Catania I did not know what to expect. I knew I wouldn’t be dealing with cases hands on because I had no legal experience and have not undergone training to interact with potential clients one on one. I came in expecting to be more behind the scenes and had the attitude to help where I can. I remember coming into the office the first day and meeting all these welcoming faces in such a positive atmosphere and being told about what Ayuda does and some of the people they’ve helped. I met with Erin Larkin who is the Associate Director for the DV/FL (Domestic Violence and Family Law) branch and she walked me through what I would be doing and worked with my availability to help make a schedule. Overall, my time here has been productive and the workers here are more than welcome to asking any questions I have about what Ayuda does and even interested in hearing what brought me into their office.

The theme of my writing class is Your Social Justice Revolution and I feel that my volunteer sight can greatly connect to this because it is a social justice movement that I am passionate about. My first paper in the class discussed how immigration is portrayed in the media, and during the writing process I was able to learn more about how location plays a huge factor on what is put in and what is withheld when discussing controversial issues such as immigration. With immigration being brought up more frequently, I have realized that it has now become the forefront for some issues and motive for actions. Volunteering here at Ayuda has definitely sprung some new possible ideas and areas of interest I want to continue to look into in the immigration field and I cannot wait to continue to be involved in helping a site that does so much.

Janelle Gray, Operation Understanding D.C

Amelia Boynton Robinson, a prominent Civil Rights activist and leader of the Civil Rights movement in Selma made this statement, “You can never know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” Throughout the United States children everywhere are receiving the invaluable gift of an education. However, for students with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds the education that they are receiving fails to tell the story of oppression and hardship that formed their history and shapes their current experience. In the SIS and History course, Introduction to Anti-Racism, taught by Professor Christopher Petrella, we learn that when students are not taught from the perspective of the oppressed they will not have knowledge of nor be able to confront the systemic issues that plague today’s society. In my own service work with Operation Understanding D.C., I have learned the importance of approaching education honestly and holistically in order to ensure that students are able to knowledgeably confront injustice.

Operation Understanding D.C. is a non-profit organization committed to the eradication of racism and anti-Semitism. They believe that this can best be achieved by training and educating African-American and Jewish high school students from D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia, to be leaders who promote empathy, respect, and cooperation in their communities. To accomplish this OUDC takes twenty high school students through a six-month intensive education program. This program begins by taking the student to workshops, lectures, and meetings where they learn the history of African-Americans and Jews. Then, the students go on a “Summer Journey” in which they travel to the Deep South to obtain first-hand accounts from Civil Rights era leaders and activist while simultaneously sharing their stories in order to learn how to tear down racial, religious, and ideological barriers. In the last part of the program the students take part in speechwriting courses that lead them to facilitate prejudice reducing workshops in schools, houses of worship, and other organizations throughout the D.C. area. Ultimately, these students work to build bridges across cultural lines in order to end discrimination using education as their greatest tool.

As a volunteer at Operation Understanding D.C. I work with the program director to help create and format the events and activities that the students will go through at each stage of the program. In the past few months, I have assisted procuring facilities for OUDC to hold events and with connecting the organization with other community organizers and educational institutions such as Historically Black Universities. Furthermore, in my days in the office I also assist with the development of reflective activities for the students to participate in at the weekly workshops they attend. At the beginning of my time with OUDC, I did not know what to expect. I was uncertain how far reaching the program was or the extent of their impact on students within the D.C area. What I have discovered is how powerful education truly is in shaping the perspective and experiences of students who are racially and ethnically diverse or otherwise. Recently, I attended a workshop in which the students participated in activities and discussions that addressed the problems faced by refugees and immigrants within the United States. In this workshop I saw students 16, 17, and 18 years old black and Jewish, put themselves in the position of immigrants and refugees. In doing so they were able to break down the barriers between them while simultaneously connecting what they had learned in school about those issues to the reality of what they were discussing in the session. I observed as a black student spoke about how growing up in the projects of D.C. where the majority of his friends were gang members makes him feel like he is refugee in his own country while students whose ancestors are Holocaust survivors shared the same sentiment. This experience reminded me of the many discussions that I have participated in while in the Introduction to Anti-racism course in which we learn to approach issues of race, systematic oppression, and prejudice through the lens of anti-racist ideology.

As an SIS student I learn the ways in which to confront the problems facing countries all around the world but rarely do we discuss the societal problems that are harming the communities within our own backyard. However, by working with OUDC I was able to connect my coursework to real life experiences while learning how to solve issues within American society and abroad.

Beth Taormina, Campus Kitchens

As a student originally from the laid-back Pacific Northwest, it was a jarring experience to move out to D.C. to study Public Health and adapt to the East Coast lifestyle. I felt out of place and disoriented by my new fast paced lifestyle, but most of all I was no longer engaged in a community I was close to. This lack of community connection in my new home is what drew me to the Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) at American University. The CSLP credit has provided me the opportunity to find and connect with amazing organizations in the DMV area.

I selected Campus Kitchen in Glover Park to be my main volunteer site throughout the semester. Campus Kitchen is a student-powered hunger relief organization with the mission of “using existing resources to meet hunger and nutritional needs of communities and to empower students through leadership and service learning opportunities” (Campus Kitchen, 2018). The location I specifically volunteered at focused on providing nutritional meals to the homeless and immunocompromised population in DC. I worked closely with Chef Anthony, the head chef at the Glover Park site, to prepare meals every Wednesday and Saturday. The meal preparation activities varied from day to day. Somedays I would sort through and repackage recently donated food, which would later be dispersed among other Campus Kitchen locations in the area. Other days I would be hard at work in the kitchen learning how to peel and dice fruits and vegetables.

I did not enter this service project with many expectations. I’ve learned from various experiences it is better for me to approach a situation with an open mind and minimal preconceived notions rather than expectations. On that note, I had an absolutely amazing time at Campus Kitchen and plan to continue volunteering there after this semester. Chef Anthony is what made this experience truly special! He is such a kind, welcoming person and is deeply passionate about the work he does. It was a little surprising that I never had a chance to interact with the population we were serving. I was only able to sign up for the Kitchen Shift volunteer hours due to conflicting work and class schedules. I chose to connect the CSLP to my Health Research Methods course. This volunteer experience applies to the course because the precursor to and good research is a deeper understanding of the community and their needs. It is important to spend time with target population and make sure their voices are heard. It plays a critical role in the research process.

Mary Kate Fogarty, Mary’s Center

When we hear the words “public health,” we often associate the work this group of health professionals does as strictly clinical, or as a very medicine-based line of work. Since coming to American University, I have realized that public health is so much more than treating patients on a day-to-day basis. Public health is within everything we do, and one overwhelmingly important part of this overall field of bettering health is health promotion. I have been fortunate enough to gain exposure to health promotion through my introductory class taught by Professor Jody Gan. I knew that I wanted to explore this facet of public health more, and even in a real world setting, so I figured completing my Community Service Learning Project would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Looking for an organization to work with proved more challenging than expected, but once I found Mary’s Center, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. In 1988, founder and current CEO of Mary’s Center Maria S. Gomez realized there was an influx of Latin American immigrants migrating to the United States during this time. She saw mothers with no access to prenatal care and women who were survivors of sexual violence with nowhere to turn. So that same year, she opened Mary’s Center as a place where the health needs of mother’s could be met. Fast forward to today, and Mary’s Center has become a Community Health Center that serves over 50,000 men, women, and children within the DC metropolitan area. The center has grown to 7 DC locations and one location in Maryland. What started out as a place for mother’s to find help has become one of the largest and most functional Community Health networks in the DC area.

Mary’s Center has based their mission and their work off the Social Change Model. This model is used in health promotion and health care delivery, and operates under the idea that treating individuals and families for just their health problems does not help overcome the multitude of life challenges they may face at any time, and instead looks at all areas of pressure in their lives to deliver intersectional health care, social support, and education to begin a path for a better life. This model functions in a way that Mary’s Center is not just about healthcare — it is about creating the best possible life outcomes for their patients in all situations. The Social Change Model is so important within health promotion because it is so personable; it allows for a more human point of view in trying to make a big change in a person’s life.

While at Mary’s Center, I have been lucky enough to have been placed within their health promotion department, which aligns perfectly with my introductory class. So far at the site, I have been completing tasks to better their health education materials that are passed out to patients who might benefit from a little more guidance or an extra resource that addresses a specific health or nutrition topic. For example, I created two new nutrition education materials binders for the health promotion team so that what they are handing out to their patients is current and up to date information that is disseminated from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Agriculture. It is very important that materials such as these are easily accessible to all of the patients of Mary’s Center, so all of the health and nutrition education materials are printed in both English and Spanish in order to cater to all.

In terms of me, I went into this with no expectations, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I am learning and how much I am enjoying this experience. It is truly awesome how quickly I was able to make connections to my class and to the work I have been doing at Mary’s Center, through things like the health education materials and seeing the Social Change Model in action. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that every little detail and material matters when you are dealing with an organization that has grown to be as encompassing as Mary’s Center has. So while it may seem insignificant to an outsider how many copies of the My Plate guidelines for children are made, to a health promotion professional it is very important so that all children have an equal opportunity to be informed about healthy eating. Overall, this has been a rewarding experience, and I could not be more happy with the decision that I made in completing my CSLP.

Jingxian Zhao, Iona Senior Services

While attending American University majoring in psychology, I found a great opportunity that I can do community service in order to hone my knowledge based on what I learn in my PSYC-115 Psychology as Natural Science class, which offered by the Community Service-Learning Program. As an international student, I have always wanted to dive into the community and learn more about the culture. I chose to volunteer at IONA Senior Service, where took on a new life as the home of a program created to provide social services to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. I supposed that I can learn the later life stages from the elders and get the evidence applied to my psychology class.

I was given a 2-hour training at the beginning of the program, which provided me knowledge of how to de-stress the elders when an emergency happens as well as the best gestures to physically support them from a potential tumble. It was surely a very helpful and valuable training.

I learned from their experiences. One of the most impressive moments that happened is when I listened carefully to an elder rumbling, even though he could not express what he wanted to say clearly, but based on the fragments, I can actually see that he keeps thinking deeply, philosophically, and it was absolutely thought-provoking. Every time either I talk or just simply listen to them, I am given another pair of eyes to look at the world, explore the society in different perspectives. Their stories can give me a wonderful insight of understanding more about the culture, history as well as the human experience over time. They have a wealth of knowledge and stories to share and lots of time to patiently listen to mine. I’d greatly appreciate it.

I am inspired. Working with elders gives me valuable insight into the aging process and what’s to come. Giving me an opportunity to recognize what matters most in life and me as a youngster, have many access to explore great things.

I like to make a difference to their days. For elders with the high level of care needed, extra support is always invaluable. With proper, attentive and respectful care, I can ensure that they retain their dignity and independence during the later stages of life. It is definitely a great accomplishment and rewarding achievability, knowing that I have turned what could have been a difficult day into a great one, full of laughter and joyful vibe.

I am appreciated based on the company and what I do for them. Nothing feels greater than being helpful and being appreciated. Many elders look forward to interacting with me as a caregiver and I love to empathize and friendly present my supports to make the best possibility to make them good days. Many of them would express gratitude constantly, which makes me feel worthy spending time at IONA.

In conclusion, working with the elders and the friendly staffs teaches me precious life courses, also am grateful that I am treated sincerely. As a psychology student, it is not difficult to notice that there is psychological phenomenon happening around. Not only natural science in terms of mental functions, but also the social interactions which referred to the way of dealing with anxious elders. Overall, it is a great experience.

Kate Carr, Iona Senior Services’ Farm-to-Table Porgram

Last semester I took a nutrition class to fulfill one of my last Gen Ed requirements. I was somewhat interested in nutrition and wanted to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle while in college. However, I learnt so much about the social factors that influence nutrition that I decided to add a major in Public Health to my degree. I became especially interested in food access and the disparities certain populations face when it comes to nutrition and access to healthy foods. D.C. in particular has serious food access disparities. Although Ward 3, where AU is located, has eight grocery stores, Wards 7 and 8 share only 3.

While looking for an organization to volunteer at I came across Iona Senior Services and their Farm-to-Table intern position. After some research and few discussions with members of Iona’s staff I learnt that senior citizens are an at-risk population for food insecurity and generally struggle to eat nutritious meals. I currently volunteer with their Farm-to-Table program which works to provide seniors, specifically low-income seniors, with nutritious foods and nutrition education.

Iona Senior Services is the Ward 3 lead agency on aging and aims to support individuals “as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging” through education, advocacy, and community-based programs. The nutrition program at Iona includes home-delivered meals, nutrition supplements, an emergency food pantry, a wellness program which provides nutritious lunches, and the Farm-to-Table Program.

Most of my work has been related to the Farm-to-Table program which provides free fresh produce to seniors.  On Sundays, I collect donated local produce from various farmers at the DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market which are then brought to one of the two program sites. In addition to providing fresh and nutritious foods to seniors who otherwise wouldn’t have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the Farm-to-Table program reduces food waste and supports local farms.

One of the market locations is the Active Wellness Program at St. Albans which offers heart-healthy activities and meals for older adults. About once a month Iona’s nutrition program also puts together a food demonstration for participants which includes nutrition education as well as recipes and samples. Last month I joined Iona’s Nutritional Program Manager in a food demonstration of fermented foods which was just as educational and enjoyable for me as well as the participants.

Within the short amount of time I’ve spent at Iona I’ve learnt so much more about nutrition as senior health than I ever thought possible. Working directly with a population with various interconnected health and social concerns has really helped me put what I’ve learnt in class into context. In my Introduction to Health Promotion we’ve discussed how important it is to understand the various barriers of health individuals and groups face and the specific health concerns of populations when designing a health promotion program. Iona clearly knows the health concerns of their clients and seniors in the area as a whole and creates programs targeted to specific populations of seniors.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Iona and have learnt so much about various fields including gardening, aquaponics, senior wellness, nutrition, food policy and access, transportation, and housing. I hope to continue learning more about senior health and continue to work towards improving senior health and increasing awareness of health disparities faced by seniors.

Doreen Yan, A Wider Circle

Poverty and hunger are often portrayed as existing only in developing countries but in reality, food insecurity and malnutrition exists in many D.C. communities. Food insecurity indicates that the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food, is limited or uncertain for a household. In much of D.C., low-income individuals and families, who lack resources such as cars and nearby grocery stores, are hit especially hard with hunger. Highland Dwellings and Additions are two communities I have been working with where food insecurity is a big issue they face.

The organization I chose to fulfill my Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) credit was A Wider Circle. I have been working at their satellite office in the Washington Highlands, which is located in Ward 8. I work largely with two projects, the community garden and cookbook, where I am able to utilize the topics discussed in my Introduction to Nutrition class. Highland Dwellings and Additions are both communities under D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), where the majority of residents are low-income. In efforts to increase food security in the two communities, A Wider Circle is currently developing a community garden and community cookbook. With help from the residents, the goal is to maintain a healthy garden with an abundance of produce that can later be incorporated into healthy and nutritious recipes.

The most important factor into developing the garden and cookbook was to hear the needs of the residents. Many expressed what they would like to see growing in the garden and also shared their favorite recipes to put into the cookbook. Through a survey that the residents completed, diabetes and high cholesterol were the two main concerns in many households. Many also reported that they would often feel hungry because there wasn’t enough food in the house. When helping A Wider Circle to brainstorm ideas for the cookbook, I was able to apply the concepts of my class to address these concerns. I presented the idea to have a section of the cookbook provide alternatives for ingredients that are better for diabetics and those with high cholesterol. That way, the cookbook could also have a nutrition education aspect to it. For example, informing cooks to replace saturated fatty foods with unsaturated fats and incorporate more fiber-rich foods and complex carbs. I also had the opportunity to connect with the residents and learn about their diets and eating habits. Through my conversations with them, I was able to draw upon the concepts discussed in class to suggest different ways to improve diets and minimize risk of diseases. In doing so, I learned how closely related poverty and socioeconomic status are to malnutrition. Many residents spoke to me about wanting healthier food options for their families, but not being able to afford it. By developing a community garden, the residents are taking matters into their own hands and striving to bring more nutritious foods to their tables.

So far, my experience with A Wider Circle has exceeded my expectations. I am happy with the amount of connections I am able to make from my class to the work I have been doing. It has been an eye-opening and powerful experience to work so closely with this community to help bring greater food and nutritional security to its residents. Through my work with A Wider Circle, I got to see first-hand the very real and serious issue of food insecurity that communities in D.C. and around the world face.

Sarah Elligott, DC Fair Food

My name’s Sarah Elligott and I’m an American University Junior who is focusing on sustainable development, however, I think the best way forward with that is through agricultural reform.  That being so I decided to add this extra credit to an International Food and Agriculture Policy course.  Being in the School of International Service, I was also drawn to the more humanitarian side of things even in agrarian practices.

Growing up in Northern California in a small agriculture town I was able to really see the connections or lack thereof between the different people that worked within the agricultural food chain from farm laborers to the massive monopsony’s that are controlling wages from the top down.  Even as demand increases at an exponential scale, farmers are pressured to keep prices the same, thus, they continue to try and find the cheapest way to manufacture goods or grow crops.

Out of this realization I began to work with a food justice focused organization called DC Fair Food.  The fair food program is focused on farm laborers rights, particularly based out of the tomato belt of the US, Florida.  It partners with the Coalition of Immokolee Workers to give farm laborers a better platform to ask for fair wages, report slavery conditions as well as sexual harassment.  The Fair Foods Standard Council is the main body of who tries to field this enforcement, but it is however a 501 3(c) so even though it’s a legally binding program, it’s often not enforceable due to its ambiguity.

For DC Fair Food I essentially helped them do table events such as Rooting DC as well as school symposiums, just trying to get the word out about our cause and how we can give farm laborers in the US a living wage.  Besides tabling and distributing information at events, I was also fortunate enough to have been able to present on a couple guest lectures; on to so bunch of Emory University Students and the other to some Georgetown Law school students and surrounding community members.  This is particular has really helped speaking in public for me as well.  Lastly, we went on a full-blown protest march in New York City on the head of the board for Wendy’s corporation, trying to get them to sign onto the Fair Food program like many other major corporations such as Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Giant, McDonald, etc.

I was honestly expecting to be doing more administrative work of the grassroots side of things; putting in email, going door to door, making phone calls, which I’ve had to do some of don’t get me wrong, but it was much more hands on volunteer work than I was expecting.  I got to engage with other intellectuals as well as present what I know being an (semi) expert in the areas of labor rights.  It definitely challenged me, particularly the Georgetown Panel because I think that was the most people I’ve ever spoken to in one room!  I was quite nervous, but it was really fun to overcome that and to be able to contribute to what I knew about the subject of farm workers’ rights.

This coincided with my course work well as the majority of it was about going over workers’ as well and land sovereignty and historical racism ingrained throughout our food chains.  In the Food and Agriculture policy course I took many of the injustices and human rights violations that were brought up while working for DC Fair Food.  This organization was a perfect fit for this class and the two really broadened my understandings of what goes on throughout every level of our food chain and that even if we decide to cut out animal products, we still have to be aware of where our food is really coming from.

Mark Kiwanuka, Iona Senior Services

Doing a CSLP was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. My name is Mark Kiwanuka and my major is public health. In the beginning, I had so many choices of places to volunteer. I like that CSLP can be applied to most volunteer programs in DC because this gave me the assurance that I will find the right place for me. After going to the volunteer fair and seeing the different organizations, the place where I volunteered at for my CSLP was IONA. IONA is a senior service program for local DC residents. IONA’s mission is to support people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging. They have 2 sites in DC with one in Tenleytown and another one at the National Cathedral. The location I mostly volunteered at was the National Cathedral site. My expectations of what went on at IONA and what actually was done took me by surprise. I had the impression that IONA was simply a food drive for seniors in DC. I was wrong and IONA is much more than that. IONA focuses on many aspects important to senior life. IONA at the National Cathedral site starts the day with daily exercise for the seniors. After that, they serve a balanced and healthy lunch. Then, they have guests come in with programs or activities that they see as beneficial for their members. The guests and activities are different almost every day. From Medicare officers educating the seniors on the benefits of their services, to elementary school students coming in to interact with seniors to improve their mental health, IONA always makes sure its guests are there to help seniors.

The class I saw IONA as a perfect connection for was my health promotion program planning. In health program planning, we learn the importance of health programs and the effects it has on the community. IONA has a major focus on health. IONA is a program focuses on the well-being of seniors. It uses its balanced lunch, daily physical activity classes, and guest speakers and activities specifically geared towards the age group as a way to a improve senior’s life. One of the most important life lessons I have learned from doing this is that a little active listening can go a long way. For many of these seniors, society treats them as people who no longer have an active role to play in it. Not listening to people who are past their time and assuming they don’t understand how things work in the modern world. Volunteering with seniors has given me the chance to listen to many different fascinating life stories and really see the important role seniors have in society. Learning invaluable lessons from people who have been through all different types of situations. Most times when I’m at IONA I feel like the seniors there are helping me more than I ever could help them volunteering. I am glad I chose IONA as my CSLP site and wish to volunteer there in the future.

Elena Holceker, Martha’s Table

This semester at American University I had the opportunity to participate in the Community Service Learning Program. I attached the CLSP credit to my Economics class called the Global Majority. In this class, I have learned about poverty, agriculture, and sustainability and how these factors can affect a community. I was super grateful to be able to participate in a program like this because my passion is giving back to my community. Ever since moving to D.C. I have wanted to get out and participate in some sort of service.

I am currently volunteering at Martha’s Table, a non-profit organization located on 14th Street in Washington, D.C. At Martha’s Table, there are three main programs: food, education, and opportunity. They believe it is important for the people in their community to have access to healthy food, high-quality education, and family support. Through the programs offered at Martha’s Table, it is possible for children and families to have a brighter future. Each year the organization impacts around 20,000 people through all the different programs which is exceptional. The mission of the organization is to “build a better future through healthy food, quality education, and affordable clothing” which is stated on their website.

When I volunteer at Martha’s Table, I either help with dinner and dishes or baking. Both of these shifts are part of the food program. During the dinner and dishes, I help the chef with either washing dishes, preparing meals, or packaging sandwiches. Then at four o’clock, I serve dinner outside to the community. Everybody gets a cup of tea or water, one hot meal, four sandwiches, a piece of fruit, and some type of snack. For the baking shift, I assist the chef with baking muffins. Each batch can make up to one hundred and thirty muffins. Both of these shifts are rewarding and meaningful. I enjoy volunteering at Martha’s Table because of all the familiar faces I see every time I go to site. I especially see this when I serve dinner. For some of the people who come and collect a meal, the only interaction of the day is with the volunteers. It is so rewarding to see them smile when we hand them their meal and see how grateful they are.

I tried to not have any expectations when going to Martha’s Table for the first time. Before I went to volunteer for the first time, I imagined it to be like the other times I have served meals to the homeless, except it was different because at Martha’s Table I felt more connected to the community. Seeing familiar faces not only while serving people but also at the organization is what makes my experience different. My expectation has been met and I will continue to volunteer next semester at Martha’s Table because of the connections that I have made.

In the beginning, I was having difficulty connecting my volunteer work with my class. But as I kept volunteering and learning more in the Economics class I am able to make more connections. Martha’s Table strongly believes that with a good education and having access to healthy food options, children can have a brighter future. In my Econ class, we learned that many communities that don’t have access to education or food lack the resources to succeed in life. I have learned that we take for granted our education and our access to healthy foods.

Julia Snegg, Iona Senior Services

My name is Julia Snegg, I’m a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Public Health. I am currently volunteering with Iona Senior Services, located in Tenleytown, DC. I am connecting this volunteer experience with my Introduction to Health Promotion class.

Iona Senior Services is a nonprofit organization that supports the senior community in Washington, DC. They support seniors as they transition through the aging process with comprehensive and tailored services. Iona also addresses the needs of seniors who struggle with food insecurity and finding affordable housing. Additionally, Iona promotes positive aging through the arts. They offer hands-on workshops and art therapy to older adults to encourage free expression and engagement.

Iona primarily targets the U.S. Baby Boomer population with their services, which is the fastest growing age group in the country. One of the biggest challenges for older adults is finding employment later on in life. As of 2015, 24% of Baby Boomers had no retirement savings – almost 19 million people. Baby Boomers are not saving nearly enough to offset the disappearance of pensions. Additionally, 1 in 3 older adults is jobless for more than a year.

Older workers need professional help to improve their job search capabilities to connect with local employers. This is where Iona comes in. With their amazing services, workshops, and consulting services, Iona is helping older adults pursue job opportunities in order to provide them with the necessary tools to compete in the job market.

At Iona, I am working with the chair for the DC Coalition on Long Term Care to help her carry out her outreach to the elderly community. I’m helping her put together demographic information on the elderly DC population, in addition to updating content on the Iona website. Additionally, I am conducting research on current governmental policies that may impact senior citizens in the future. Lastly, I am helping out with any programming needs like their farm to table and art therapy programs.

My expectations were to help out an amazing organization while connecting with the DC elderly community. Over the course of this semester I have had the pleasure of working with an amazing staff and community of seniors. It has been such a great opportunity to witness the incredible work that Iona does first hand.

In my Health Promotion class, we’re learning about different strategies to successfully target underserved populations with public health interventions. We discuss different planning and prevention models to best approach our target population in order to elicit healthier behaviors from them. Iona Senior Services is a perfect example of a successful public health intervention that provides seniors with a plethora of services to help them age and live well.

Stephanie Lopez, Thrive DC

The savior complex is a problem. Psychological Today describes the savior complex as “a psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people.” This thinking can be dangerous because it can lead someone to think they need to solve every problem they encounter whether it be a friend in trouble or a neighborhood concern. While a person may have good intentions, they may be more focused on the sense of obligation to do service than liking and learning from the service experience.

When I started participating in service projects I wanted to help communities that reminded me of my childhood. As first generation college student, I grew up in predominately low-income and minority neighborhood. When I began doing service projects at American University, I wanted to go to communities that I related to. I achieved this goal my freshman year when I participated in the Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) and tutored at CentroNía. The experience allowed me to tutor Latino students in Columbia Heights.

While I did have a meaningful service experience at CentroNía, I ended up staying in my comfort zone. I entered a familiar community, the Latino and immigrant community, and focused on relating my service to my experiences as a child. I constantly compared my past actions and how I could fit it in with the students. I wanted be an example of how a Latina could succeed and be educated. Thus, I ended up going to tutor because I felt that my presence was an example of success and would help the children. My savior complex and ego made it harder to have meaningful service. When I reflect back, I question whether I made a true connection with my students because my experience was focused on comparing our lives.

Therefore, when I decided to participate in CSLP again I wanted to enter a community where I that I was not familiar with. My goal was to go out of my comfort zone and gain knowledge about different communities in DC. I decided to work with Thrive DC. Thrive DC, is a nonprofit that works to prevent and end homelessness in Washington, DC by providing vulnerable people with a wide range of service to help stabilize their lives.

I decided to become a communications intern for Thrive using my federal work study. This experience would be different from my past services because I would not be working directly with the community. Instead, I would be helping the administrative staff advertise Thrive’s services and tell clients’ stories. Even though these tasks help alleviate stress on the staff it can be difficult to see it has rewarding when you do not see the progress every day.

People like to see progress especially when it comes to service. Something I’ve noticed since I volunteered as a child is that it helps see your work in action. For example, when I volunteered God’s Pantry, a food bank in Lexington, KY, it was hard to want to keep motivated because volunteers would just be sorting and packaging in a storage unit. The boxes of food would then be delivered to families across the city. As a volunteer, I knew my work was contributing to the overall mission of the organization but because I never saw a family receive food it hard to stay motivated. After this experience, I decided I wanted to only have hands-on and direct service experiences.

Thrive DC was the opposite of what I was looking for. I was nervous about how I would stay motivated when I would not see homeless clients benefiting from my efforts. My first days at Thrive were hard because I felt bored not walking around and talking to clients. Instead, I would be reading testimonials from staff and volunteers about their experience. Then, I would write social media posts about the positive services at the organization.

My writing and social media posts felt “fake” because I was advertising the positivity for my nonprofit without doing any of the work. Additionally, I had no connection with the clients to see how accurate the testimonials were. Not having this connection can cause people to stop volunteering or wanting to do work. Furthermore, I have had friends who stopped working for a nonprofit because they do not see their work bringing results. It is a sad reality but if people do not see results, they might feel like they are having no impact.

This is how I felt in the beginning of my service experience. I did not interact with clients and only knew their stories from reading other people’s testimonials. Additionally, I felt like I was staying in my comfort zone. However, as I continued doing work for the communications and developing team I began challenging my previous views.

Successful service is usually advertised as actions that have direct and hands-on approach with communities. However, that is not true. As I continued researching and alleviating stress from administrative I learned how community donors and other organizations used the research and social media posts I was doing to help Thrive. Every time I posted something online, I was helping Thrive stay relevant with the community and persuading others to volunteer or donate to help the organization.

The behind the scene service that I was doing helped me open my eyes and appreciate the hard work that goes into a nonprofit. Volunteers usually only see case workers and managers but there are so many people that are working on keeping a nonprofit funded and relevant to the city. It made me realize how my work is part of the overall system that helps Thrive and its clients. I didn’t need to have a direct connection with every client to help.

Additionally, I can learn more about the structure of Thrive and how many nonprofits work to help vulnerable communities. This reciprocal process helped me recognize the importance of learning when doing service. Having an open mind and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you to learn about important topics and show the potential service can have for a community and yourself. My goal now when doing service, is to learn and be resourceful with the knowledge I gain.

My time at Thrive as taught me to focus on the needs of the nonprofit not my own. Moreover, it taught me to challenge myself and be resourceful. Service is not about staying in your comfort zone but stepping outside of it to make an impact. I hope I made a small impact even if it was just something small. Anything that helped alleviate stress and continue Thrive’s mission is a win for me.

Hannah Fuchs, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

For the past semester, I have volunteered at the non-profit Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.  This institution focuses on easing the mental burden of their constituents through holistic healing programs.  The programs that Smith Center provides, whether they are art/yoga classes or support groups, are public health interventions that strive improve the mental health of the population.  Their target at-risk population are those diagnosed with cancer, but a diagnosis is not required to participate in classes.  Many of the programs that Smith Center provides focus on motivating their participants to take a more active role in their health.  My work at Smith Center has been a supplement to Intro to Health Promotion taught by Professor Gan.  In this course, we have learned a lot about the importance of self-efficacy – or how much an individual believes they can control their own health.  I have never seen this part of the health behavior models applied to mental health, so this volunteer experience has been amazing in that regard.

Much of my volunteering is focused on setting up for the knitting class on Wednesday afternoons.  I check who has RSVPed to the class, organize the program space by arranging chairs, and man the front desk when participants arrive.  Greeting these people is always a delight because they are so excited.  There are a handful of regulars who have forged a bond and a community over the years of attending this class, and, by the end of their time, I can see how happy they are.  From my time talking to them, Smith Center is an escape that lets them forget about hospitals and other worries—even if just for a little while.  This experience and having the opportunity to participate in this group myself has changed my expectations of what was expected of me.  I thought that most of my work would be filing paperwork and inputting the in-take and evaluation forms into the database.  I thought I would be in a cubicle puttering away while the real work went on around me.  Instead, I have been accepted into the community, and the ladies who come in have even started teaching me how to knit with them.  As a result, I have been challenged to step outside my social comfort zone and learn how to engage directly with people I am working to help.

Smith Center does not stop there, however. There is no fee for any of their programs. All classes are free to the public!  There is a suggested donation listed for each (ex: $20 to cover the ingredients of a cooking class), but often people do not have the means to contribute.  So, in order to remain operating, Smith Center is largely funded by outside grants and foundations.  Usually the process of finding such grants is out-sourced to a company that specializes in this practice, but Smith Center’s usual company no longer works on grants less than $10,000.  As a small non-profit, most of the funding for Smith comes from grants of $2,000 or less.  Thus, I have also been tasked to use online databases to find more funding opportunities for Smith Center.  This task was a surprise to me, and I have never done anything like it before, so there has been a learning curve.  I have had to reach out to my professors during office hours to ask for guidance.  I have had to take free online courses about how to match grants to organizations.  I have learned so much about how a non-profit stays afloat.  This task has allowed me to expand my knowledge of public health and health promotion because I have gained a better understanding of the business side of the equation.  As a public health major, I cannot wait to see how many other ways health promotion can be applied to the real world.

Taylor Griffin, One World Education

It’s 7:30 p.m. The last time I ate was shortly after my first morning class, and the snow is starting to fall. At this point, I’m beginning to wish I was back home in my cozy dorm room, but regardless of the weather, this is the happiest I have been in a long time. After the bus has finally arrived, I find my seat and it occurs to me that I’ve found a new purpose.

I always wanted to volunteer in high school, but sports and clubs took up most of my time. So, I wanted college to be different; I wanted to finally do my part to help others. That’s partially why I chose American University to be my home for the next four years. Being in D.C., the students at AU have all kinds of opportunities to volunteer in communities. In my time here, I’ve also noticed that AU has a great connection with organizations in its area, and the staff continuously encourage students to apply what they learn in the classroom. Every student at American is required to take a Writing Seminar, usually in their freshman year, and each section is on a different topic. My current major is Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government, so the section on social justice seemed like a good fit for me.

Going into the class, I knew that it offered an optional extra credit for community service, but it didn’t interest me too much. Some students overload themselves their freshman year, and their grades suffer. I wanted to avoid that at all costs. But soon after reading the first few assignments for the class I decided that 40 hours wasn’t a huge commitment. In a way, I was correct. But I was also very wrong.

I started volunteering at One World Education, an organization whose scholarship program encourages middle and high school students to research and write on a topic that’s important to them, and I would hesitate to sign up again. While working with the students is not necessarily an academic challenge for me, it is emotionally difficult. So many of these students have personal experiences relating to their topics, and I constantly left the community center distraught over the conversations I would have with them. And what’s worse is that it’s not really my job to consult them about what they’re going through. Occasionally we’ll discuss what’s going on at school or they’ll tell me about what they did over the weekend, but my assigned job is to help them put together a speech- not feel sorry for them. I’ve learned that they don’t want me to sympathize; they just want to make a change so that their topic is no longer a societal problem. They want their voices to finally be heard.

I expected to teach these students how to write better and improve their public speaking. And while I made suggestions, they taught me about overcoming adversity and more importantly, not making assumptions about someone’s ability to succeed. Why wouldn’t they be just as capable as students who hadn’t gone through these trials? And what made me assume that they needed me? The only reason I was of any help was that I’ve been through a few more years of school. I’m good at grammar, and after my first few sessions, I started to ask myself what else I could contribute, if anything. I realized later that I wasn’t there for academics. I was there to listen, learn, and encourage because that’s what a mentor is for.

It’s normal to go into a volunteer opportunity hoping to change the world and help someone. But you really shouldn’t. I learned wasn’t going to fix the world, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. That’s one of the first points we went over in my social justice class, and at first, I was skeptical. Of course, I can make a difference. Nope. I learned my job is not to fix the world, it’s to listen and learn. Everyone wants to be heard, and if I’m volunteering, it’s my job to support people in whatever situation they are now.

Taylor McManus, Georgetown MedStar Pediatrics

My name is Taylor McManus, and I am a Public Health major. I am connecting my CSLP credit to Health Research Methods (PUBH-350), and the organization I am working with is Georgetown MedStar Pediatrics at Tenleytown.

The mission of MedStar hospital is constructed by the Jesuit principle cura personalis, which means “care of the whole person” and embodies the mission of all health care staff to comfort and care for not only the body, but also the mind. Respect, innovation, teamwork, and integrity are a few of the other beliefs that the MedStar organization believes in.

One social issue in particular I have experienced while working at this site is that of religious and personal beliefs. On multiple occasions, clinic staff has had issues with parents of patients not wanting to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons. Those who are educated in the medical field are aware of the dangers of not vaccinating children, but many parents are stubborn; however, many of the practicing physicians refuse service to parents who will not vaccinate their children. It is also difficult to turn patients away due to lack of insurance or payment for an appointment. The front desk staff makes their best effort to educate and inform patients on necessary documentation and the need for insurance.

The service site where I am currently working is short-staffed, so I have been given the same expectations as a full-time employee. Each time I work, I am either assigned to medical records or to the front desk. Medical records involve me working with school forms and scanning in documents to update patient profiles. I have been given access to the entirety of the patient portal and all documents, allowing me to get a deeper look into behind-the-scenes medical work and records. In the front, I am usually assigned to answering the nurse line; here, I provide the nurses with symptom summaries and patient concerns so that the nurses are able to easily respond and take necessary actions.

My expectations for this volunteer position were initially high; I have heard in the past that Georgetown MedStar Hospital volunteer positions are fairly difficult to come by. My onboarding process took well over three months and I was impressed at how detailed the orientation was. While many clinical volunteer positions encompass only paper filing, sorting, or menial tasks, I was confident that this site would provide me with more intellectually challenging activities to participate in. My expectations have been met. I feel as though I am being given difficult tasks (learning the online patient system and preforming medical scribe duties) while also helping out in other ways such as educating patients on the necessity of an online portal to communicate with physicians. I have been interested in patient care for my entire life, and this has allowed me to take a small step towards what I expect my future to look like.

The class I have connected to my site focuses extensively on methods used for health research. While there is no research being done currently, the class has allowed me to be more aware of patient condition and various distinctions between them such as socioeconomic status, race, and disease status. In this medical setting, I have become more educated and experienced on the kinds of issues that could be studied to further benefit the public health field, including what exposures lead to higher risk of childhood illness and what behaviors parents should follow to assure childhood health. Since I am working at a pediatric clinic, it is easiest to focus on and develop scenarios relating to the health of minors. I have not only learned lessons on the importance of detail and good communication in medicine, but how customer service can impact quality of medical care altogether. The front desk commonly faces issues regarding appointment scheduling, insurance and ID verification, and necessary forms. It is just as important as medical care to ensure that patients have a good experience outside of the doctor’s office regarding care and health maintenance.

Neda Ghias, Salem Gospel Ministries

When I registered for Health Promotion Program planning, I didn’t really know what I was going to learn in the class because I had never taken a health promotion class. As someone who personally loves volunteering and helping out other communities, I was excited to be able to work closely with the African American immigrant community of Salem Gospel Ministries.  The class gave us the opportunity to actually attend a Sunday service at Salem Gospel Ministries, which really helped understand the community, their needs, the general population (adults vs. children), cultural differences, and language barriers. All of the members were very friendly and inviting, and even had a personal English translator for our class members since they are mostly French speaking. The mission of Salem Gospel Ministries is to develop a community within these immigrants to help them become accustomed and integrated into the society. Church for them is a community that they can lean on for help with any problems they are experiencing, or even just a place to come and let go of the everyday hassles.

Within this community and the HPRM class, our goal was to understand how aware the community is about autism. Based on a survey my class developed and the responses from the church members, we noticed there was very little to no awareness about what autism is. We then developed a needs assessment to understand the needs of the community and ways to bring awareness. After developing a needs assessment my group members and I continued to make a lesson plan, workshops, brochures, and flyers to bring awareness. We then presented all the materials we gathered and created throughout the semester to my professor and the church leaders.

My expectations while working with this community was that they would have some basic understanding of what autism, that we would have a hard time developing a program plan that they can understand and actually take something away from, and lastly, I didn’t think they would be as interested or open to our class and all the different projects. But throughout the semester, I learned that there really is a lack of awareness and understanding about what autism is and what symptoms parents should be keeping their eyes open for throughout a child’s first years and also later in life. It is important for parents of children with autism to know that there are support groups that can help them cope with this and that they aren’t alone. It is never too late to start a child on medications for autism but it’s important to give proper resources and information to them.  Developing a program plan for the community members to actually learn from wasn’t too hard especially because we were able to go to Salem Gospel Ministries and understand really the community we were working with and the space we had to hold the workshops. Lastly, church members were really interested in our project, working with us, and helping in any way they could. They were all very friendly and actually interested on the different projects we were working on. Dr. Adrien was the pastor of the church and he was very informative and helpful with answering questions and being able to really make the Sunday church service enjoyable for everyone.

Some connections I made throughout the semester between my volunteer work and my health promotion program class were the importance of programs like these and how they can help these kinds of communities grow and learn about real-life problems. With all the different programs that were created by my classmates and I, we were really able to give a great overview of problems they seemed to not know too much about after reviewing the survey results. The lessons I learned while working with this community are the importance of understanding different levels of awareness, knowledge, and experience from immigrants. It is always important to consider these especially when creating lesson plans and needs assessment. I definitely would be interested in registering for another CSLP learning program to reach out to other communities that need the help.

Chelsia Melendez , Community of Hope

Community development through nonprofit growth can improve the quality of life for people in the community that have been historically marginalized. Community of Hope, a nonprofit based in southwest D.C., provides services for low-income families to have access to quality healthcare, housing and financial support. Community of Hope’s unique strategy including their preventive care, wraparound services, government and donor partnerships allows the organization to tackle chronic issues that affect the standard of living of the residents and family members in Ward 8 and 7. Nonprofits can bridge that gap caused by the lack of public and private sector solutions to the decline in affordable housing, access to hospitals and clinics in their area. Low-income families are the most vulnerable to the constant and recent changes in the healthcare, housing and education policies. Community of Hope provides these population with the support needed to navigate these policy changes and provides solutions while preventing further homelessness, joblessness and health issues with their business structure and strategy.

The Global Emerging Markets course is an international business course that seeks to address, highlight and find solutions that countries, governments and business face to investment, economic and business development. In the course, Global Emerging Markets, the first half of course focused on the issues emerging markets face in attracting and maintaining foreign direct investment and business development. The second half of the source focuses on the challenges individual businesses have in addressing the market, country and community demands to make their organization a successful company in the market they seek to operate in. Nonprofits can act in a complementary way where they provide services, products and support were government regulation, business services and country environment are lacking. For example, my in-class case study we learned that Singapore as the Central Provident Fund, which is a publicly managed mandatory savings program to provide all Singaporeans with social security. The program provides homeownership benefits, national healthcare, family insurance and the investment needs of the population by demanding a high savings rate from the nation. The Singaporean government provides a solution to affordable, accessible and quality housing and healthcare that many other countries lack. Indian and American governments lack the regulation and policies to provide affordable healthcare for the whole nation forcing many people to pay out of pocket, receive poor treatment and not have access to quality health care in general. In the case of the United States, government policies like Affordable Health Care, which aimed to provide universal health care, is slow to full implementation alongside changes in administration the future is uncertain. Nonprofit hospitals and clinics care directly address the health care needs of the community rather than just providing services their investors and shareholders deem as important. Community of Hope has three clinics throughout D.C one of them in Ward eight that provides behavioral health care, dental care, primary care and maternal-child care services to treat illness and health issues. In addition, Community of Hope also provides preventive care services like emotional wellness counseling, reproductive care coordinators and support groups that support low income population with the resources, information, mentorship and support. Community of Hope provides treatment and access to quality health care in areas of D.C. where reaching a primary hospital may be challenging. The main strategy that differentiates Community of Hope is their preventive care solutions to tackle problems like teen pregnancy, obesity and diabetes that affect low income communities more than higher income communities.

Community of Hope’s wrap-around strategy provides a holistic approach to problems that exacerbate each other. As a result, Community of Hope has housing services that provide housing for short periods of time, to transitional housing and permanent housing, all with preventive programs and financial freedom programs. Their unique housing program works to end homelessness through support such as employment specialist, child care programs and housing search support to transition homeless families to permanent housing. Community of Hope’s third strategy is partnering with other nonprofits such as Martha’s Table in 2018 with the shared mission to provide quality educational programs, healthy food and social services support. Government partnership’s also play a large role in increasing city and community development. Community of Hope partnered with Department of Health to launch a Healthy Start program that address toxic stressors for expecting parents and families with infants and young children through educating families on emotional development and support during and after pregnancy.

Community of Hope achieved scale because of their operational strategy but also their financial approach. Community of Hope, unlike most nonprofits, has a constant revenue stream from their clinics because of their patient fees. As a result, thirty-two percent of their revenue comes from clinics giving them flexibility and ability to reach nearly ten thousand patients a year and close to 3,000 people in their housing program. Their rapid growth is also attributed to change in leadership. Kelly McShane become CEO in 2001 and since then their budget as increased from 1.8 million to 16 million growing their impact to 6 times more families and low income individuals. Community of Hope has changed the way I thought about nonprofit impact on city and community development since they maintain scale along with providing quality solutions. Their ability to reach scale with good quality is due to their preventive care, wraparound services and donor partnership, along with their financial revenue approach. My work in the service cite is behind the scenes which allows me to see how the organization functions administratively and logistically. I attended meetings and helped coordinate their upcoming event, the Holiday Market, which is an event on December 9, 2017 that brings local business to sell and explain their services allowing the community to come together for the holidays while allowing local business to market their services and products. I also help organize more than $15,000 dollars’ worth of monetary gifts to the families and coordinate other volunteer involvement. It has been helpful to work in the development office because I can see how all of the services of the organization connects to their greater mission of improving the quality of life of low-income families.

I argue that the main connection to Kogod’s international business course is to include the role of nonprofits on a global and local scale in tackling healthcare and housing issues has a way to improve city and community development. Nonprofits can be impactful in countries that government regulation and policies are lacking in providing incentives for business and foreign direct investments. Improving quality of life in low income areas leads to city development which can increase business and investment in the community.


Paola Velez, The Latino Student Fund

Hello- my name is Paola Velez, I am an International Relations major and an International Business Minor. The class that I am connecting this CSLP credit to is my gateway course into SIS, which is International Development. The organization that I’ve had the pleasure volunteering with this semester is The Latino Student Fund at the National Cathedral site. The mission of the Latino Student Fund is to provide opportunities towards a strong academic foundation for underserved PreK through 12th grade students, mainly of Hispanic descent, along with their families in order to promote higher education and professional leadership. The Latino student fund offers these struggling, low-income families year-round out of school tutoring and educational programs for both the children and adults. The goal of this wonderful non-profit organization is to provide these at-risk students and their families with continuous increasing levels of educational achievement.

The social issues that The Latino Student Fund addresses is the alleviation of educational barriers for first generation students towards achieving and having access to higher education and providing the support to the families to be strong advocates for their kids. What I was doing at the service site was tutoring children on their school subjects like math, reading and writing. I was also helping most of the children with their language skills and development. My expectations of this program was that it was going to be an extremely disorganized organization (because it was a non-profit and that is typically the stereotype that goes along with them) and I also expected that the children were going to be challenging to work with. But I was proven wrong because this site turned out to be one of the most organized and beautiful sites ran by workers and volunteers who were devoted to the organizations mission of empowerment and helping their community.

The connections that I’ve made between my volunteer work and my International Development class are that first off, these students and their parents have migrated to the States directly from developing countries. Most of these families have migrated to the United States in hopes of a better life, futures, and opportunities. In International Development we learn that there is a learning crisis in developing countries where children are either poorly educated or denied an education altogether. I’ve always said that I am a strong believer in the fact that education is a fundamental human right that everyone has the right to receive. Therefore, some lessons that I’ve learned while working in the community is never to take my education and the opportunities I’ve received for granted—because there are people, like the ones who receive services from the Latino Student Funds who are not as fortunate as me and have to try ten times harder to prosper in the U.S. All in all, I’ve learned that education is the gate way out to overcome poverty and The Latino Student Fund works towards leveling out the playing field for students whom English is their second language and who encounter disparities in access to education.

Emily Sutherland, Horace Mann Elementary School

When I tell people I want to be a farmer but that I got to school in DC I get some strange looks. American University is the perfect fit for me, but still I find myself dreaming about the days where I lay down after a long day of working outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. Sometimes, though, classroom lectures and studying get old. I would much prefer learning from experience in the ‘real world’ and moving while I’m doing it. The CSLP program enabled me to do just that. I gained valuable gardening experience while learning about how city children interact with the environment.

This semester, I spent forty hours working in the Horace Mann Elementary School’s “Mann Farm” where I managed twenty raised beds and got them ready for winter. I harvested, cleared, and covered beds, reorganized the equipment, and conducted some light carpentry repairing the beds. I also got to spend a few days working on the rooftop garden and learning about vertical farming towers. From both of these, the children eat fresh-grown salads served at lunch. The mission of Horace Mann is to “learn within and beyond [their] school walls” which I can attest they succeeded in. By providing a joyful learning environment, Horace Mann encourages students to reach their full potential.

Going into the semester, I was expecting to spend a lot of time with the kids and teaching them about how important healthy, fresh food is. However, I only spent two days with the kids, as this portion of the program was already full of volunteers and running smoothly. I was just as happy to do what was needed, which was garden. I went to work every day excited about the quiet time I would have tending to the raised beds and making visible improvements. I learned that I really appreciate tangible, immediate results, like harvesting the final tomatoes from a plant, clearing the bed, and covering it with weed cloth to prepare for winter. The work was hard, but fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

In my environmental health class, we spent some time learning about food systems and how the food we eat, and how that food is grown and processed, impacts our health. For example we learned, and I did independent research on, how food itself becoming less nutritious. Coupled with how risks to farmworkers from pesticide exposure, these two issues are direct health risks humans face as a result of food systems. Indirect problems tend to have more widespread effects, and these could include fertilizer runoff causing nutrient pollution in bodies of water. This runoff then harms aquatic populations and these contaminants can also enter our drinking water supply. No matter how you slice it, food plays a large role in human health. Mann Farm is pesticide free and uses natural fertilizers, minimizing their environmental impacts as much as possible. Around the school are rain gardens, an apiary, and compost bins to encourage environmentally friendly practices.

One key takeaway that I learned at Horace Mann is that children absorb pretty much all the information you throw at them. Third graders are more intelligent and capable than I gave them credit for, and they were eager to learn about and engage in gardening. These children will take the information they are learning about organic farming into their homes and hopefully throughout their future lives. Mann Farm’s coordinator, Amy Jagodnik, knows that kids are more likely to eat something that they helped make, and sure enough almost all of the kids at lunch took some salad that they had harvested less than an hour before. By educating the next generation of policy makers, farmers, educators, and doctors from a young age, I believe the health of the environment and humans are in much better hands.

Rachel Bernardo, Higher Achievement Program

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Recent research by the National Institute for Early Education Research has revealed that African-American and Hispanic/Latino children are generally 7-12 months behind in reading skills and 9-10 months behind in math skills when they enter kindergarten. During the transition from elementary to middle school, students from all socioeconomic groups typically show a decline in academic achievement. These gaps hold several economic, societal, and public health implications. The term “achievement gap” describes when one group of students performs better or worse than another group in terms of achievement. As such, opportunity and achievement gaps are inextricably connected.

The mission of Higher Achievement Program (HAP) is to close the opportunity gap during the critical middle school years. Higher Achievement provides a rigorous year-round learning environment which includes caring role models and high standard. At Higher Achievement, we call the middle school students “scholars,” since they are all driven to help bridge the opportunity gap in their communities. The after-school program provides scholars with homework help, mentoring, and high school placement advisors. The social issues they address in mentoring include the four social justice pillars: voice, freedom, justice, and solidarity. The scholar population has a demographic makeup of 80% African-American and 10% Latino children. Students in communities served by Higher Achievement are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than are their peers in more affluent communities. In contrast, 95 percent of Higher Achievement scholars who complete the program advance to top academic high schools.

When I arrive at Marie Reed Elementary School in Ward 1, I begin by assisting with study hall. I am placed in a room of about fifteen sixth graders and answer questions as needed. Then, I lead the scholars to the cafeteria where they are given dinner. After dinner, we begin a two-hour mentoring session. I am paired with the same two scholars each week, Roberto and Christian, and facilitate the lesson plan for the day. The lesson plans are pre-written plans that focus on the four social pillars. The lesson plans typically include an article highlighting an injustice that helps form a conversation and pave the way for an activity. For example, last week, in conclusion of the unit “Voice,” the scholars exercised their voice by writing a letter or a speech about a topic that they believe limits the opportunities and privileges of others.

Although my mentee group behaves most of the time, my expectations have been challenged in terms of my patience. Although I knew I would need to practice lots of patience, it has definitely been tested many times. During study hall, the scholars typically have trouble paying attention and staying focused. We try to help them stay focused, but recognize these scholars have already been in school all day and are very tired. Often times, behavioral issues may overshadow their many strengths, but each scholar has the potential to succeed given the resources and opportunities.

I have been able to make many connections between my volunteer work and my health promotion class. Through our coursework, I learned about the impact education has on health. Healthy People 2020 is a collaborative initiative of the United States Department of Health and Human Services which guides the national prevention agenda. Leading Health Indicators (LHIs) were selected by the initiative to communicate high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them. Education was selected as one of the key LHIs of the social determinants of health. Those with more education tend to experience better health compared to those with less education. Therefore, efforts to address health should include making quality education widely accessible to all populations. The target for 2020 is to increase the percentage of students in public schools graduating with a high school diploma to 87%, which would be an 8% increase from 2010-2011.

I learned many things while working for this organization, including the severe education inequalities in DC. Higher Achievement Program helped me understand the need for programs like these in the communities it serves. Although more work has to be done, especially at a larger scale, these programs are extremely beneficial in closing the achievement gap. I had no idea this program would transform me both personally and academically, sparking my interest to continue to fight for social injustices.

Jendelly Veloz, Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc.

Being raised first-generation American by parents who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and knew absolutely nothing about the United States, except that achieving the “American Dream” was extremely interesting, contrary to popular belief. My parents fled from the Dominican Republic in their late 20’s, in hopes of finding better job opportunities, less delinquency, the ability to voice their opinions, and overall, a stable and secure lifestyle. Growing up, my brothers and I were taught two things: 1) Always Stand For What You Believe in and 2) Be The Change You Wish To See in the World.

While attending American University, I combined my interests in Justice, Law, and Criminology with my burning desire to implement change on some integral level, but first, I needed to understand the underworks of it. AU’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) allowed me to do just that by volunteering at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. (YLOT), an organization that provides adolescent girls, who have, or may potentially, come in contact with the juvenile justice system. Through trauma-informed programming, YLOT fosters preventive and rehabilitative services to help its girls successfully transition into womanhood by increasing their self-awareness and developing their mental and emotional state. The non-profit organization focuses on the following five core elements: 1) ‘Encourage Teamwork’ by facilitating productive dialogue and allowing girls to communicate effectively and work collaboratively, 2) ‘Create New Opportunities’ by exposing the girls to various events, trainings, and workshops with many hands-on experiences and challenges, 3) ‘Celebrate Accomplishments’ to empower young ladies to recognize their hard work, 4) ‘Volunteer’ to teach the young ladies to give back to their local community, and 5) ‘Have Fun and Stay Engaged’ by striving to create a safe haven for the girls, where they feel comfortable being themselves and wanting to participate in interactive programs at all times. These elements allow for volunteers and mentors, like myself, at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. to stay on track when mentoring the young ladies.

As part of AU’s CSLP, I was able to work 50+ hours throughout the semester, alongside YLOT’s CEO, Helen Wade. Being exposed to all aspects of the justice system and shadowing probation officers at the Superior Court truly allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in classes throughout my three years at AU to the real situations outside the classroom. I became extremely engaged in the African-American Community, and was surprised to learn about the limited resources provided to us, minorities, particularly the black people. It was definitely an eye-opener, working for Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc., as it provided tremendous insight on what causes crime in impoverished communities, such as the ones these young ladies find themselves in. CSLP has definitely expanded my knowledge in ‘Cities and Crime’ and has reaffirmed what my parents taught me: change starts with you, and volunteering could truly allow you to implement the change you wish to see in the world.

Kacie Sampson, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School

My name is Kacie Sampson, I am a sophomore at American University, and I am applying my CSLP credit to my Intro to International Development, SISU 240 class. For my volunteer assignment, I have been serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, which is affiliated with the larger school, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, also based in DC.

The mission of the Carlos Rosario School, as stated on the website is “To provide education that prepares the diverse adult immigrant population of Washington, DC to become invested, productive citizens and members of American society who give back to family and community.” Simply stated, the goal of both the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus is to equip immigrants and marginalized members of the community with skills that not only enable personal growth, but also increase competitiveness in job seeking. The common theme of “rugged individualism” in pursuit of the “American Dream” leads to some people falling by the wayside, without much regard from those who are still competing in the race. However, while running so far ahead, many fail to recognize that not everyone has the same starting point. The Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus seek to level out the playing field and address this often institutionalized social inequality among minorities and immigrants. By providing career classes such as nursing and culinary arts, as well as skills courses in ESL and computer literacy, Carlos Rosario and Sonia Gutierrez offer marginalized members of society resources that many Americans take for granted.

I serve as a teaching assistant in a computer literacy class of about fourteen adult students. While the teacher instructs the class on the various applications featured on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, it is my duty to make sure that none of the students are falling behind and to answer any questions they may have. While my role seems relatively simple, it becomes complicated when one considers that: 1. The members of the class are only part-time students, meaning that they usually work full-time jobs and do not have time to study the material thoroughly; 2. The students come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of exposure to technology before coming to the Campus; 3. Of the fourteen members, only one student speaks English as their first language, so many students are still developing their English language skills.

Coming into this experience, I was happy to be serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, yet I was struggling to see how my answering a question on formatting a Word document might somehow make a positive impact on these students that I so eagerly wanted to help. Now that my service is coming to a close; however, I see that the value of my CSLP experience did not lie in what I could give to the class, but what the class could give to me. The class inspired me with their dedication to learn despite the obstacles. In the absence of many resources even I receive by going to this University, the students pressed on, relying on their work ethic and dedication, when others would have given up long ago. Another challenge this experience presented me was working within a multicultural environment. As an SIS, student, with Cross Cultural Communications under my belt, I felt that I was already pretty well prepared to work within a diverse setting. The Campus, however, presented me with new challenges as I began to understand what each of the students needed in the learning process. Some were too proud to ask for help, others needed things to be read or defined more than once, the class almost never started on time, among other things. Contrary to the DC way of fast-paced and efficient, in the class I learned the value of taking my time and making sure each student fully understood a concept before we moved on.

My service connects with my International Development class on multiple levels. To begin, the class is multicultural, which applies to the SIS emphasis on working in diverse settings; but further, the class comes from different economic backgrounds, which one may argue has an impact that is equivalent with culture on identity formation. In SISU 240, we have challenged the concept of GDP as a metric for development, stressing human development and equal access to resources as a more accurate measure of well-being. Carlos Rosario demonstrates this reality in offering those who are frequently forgotten by the market an opportunity to become more productive. This practice demonstrates that, when given the chance, individuals will become more productive, despite their socioeconomic odds. Further, my service reflects what we have learned in class in stressing the importance of education on development, as education is often one of the preliminary steps towards a more efficient, but more importantly, inclusive society.

In summation, I would like to thank CSLP, the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, as well as Professor Dixon for giving me this opportunity to serve my community (even if in a small way) and grow personally. My passion lies in serving individuals who are often left with few alternatives. I hope that, as more people gain exposure to community involvement, we can create a society that works for all of its members.

Julia Remy, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

When I was 15, I got my first job as a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Since then I’ve worked five different jobs ranging from babysitting to swim instructor to research assistant. Despite the vast differences in work environments I have never thought about workplace violence. This is an undeniable example of the level of privilege that I’m accustomed to, as I have never faced an incident of workplace violence such as wage theft, physical or verbal abuse. Many are not as lucky, especially those that are the sole-providers for their families, aren’t native English speakers or are undocumented. Throughout my time in the Health Promotion Program Planning course I was able to work with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL) to learn more about the impact of workplace violence on the African immigrant community throughout  he D.C. area.

AIPHL is a group of community leaders that aim to raise awareness of health issues impacting members of the African immigrant community. Some of their priority areas include increasing access to nutritious food, raising awareness of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and prevention of domestic and workplace violence. The community I worked with was a group of people from Francophone nations within Africa with a high concentration of Congolese and Senegalese people. As religion is a major aspect of this culture the lab does most of it work from a church in Silver Springs, MD. One Sunday morning, a group of students and I visited the church for their Sunday morning prayers, little did we know that this three-hour service was done entirely in French! As my family is French, I was able to understand and translate a good amount of the service, but three hours of religion in French was a lot! After the service, we asked the congregation to fill out a survey regarding their health behaviors including the impact of workplace violence. I was also able to speak, in broken French, to some of the members to learn more about their lives and their work environments.

I went to the church with the expectation that these people wouldn’t want to share highly personal information such as their work history or domestic violence stories. To the contrary of my expectations, they were extremely welcoming (I even got a job offer to work at refugee camp in Congo!) and willing to help us with our project but were more eager to help their community.

To be honest I was a little confused when assigned to focus on workplace violence as it was an issue I knew little about and therefor assumed was rare or non-existent. Unfortunately, I was wrong as a majority of the congregation had experienced some form of workplace violence.

I tried to combat this by creating a series of workshops focusing on the education and prevention of workplace violence while paying attention to the unique needs of this community. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing very little to impact this vast and vibrant community, but am truly hopeful that the members will be able to recognize and report the multifaceted issue of workplace violence. In summation, this experience not only reaffirmed the privileges I have, but taught me a lot about a community I would have never interacted with if it wasn’t for American University.

Fiona Geier, Gospel Salem Ministry Church

While taking my Health Promotion Program Planning class with Professor Free, I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to get involved with the center for community engagement and service. I have always had an interest in community service, and I was excited to find out that I would be able to create a health promotion program for a community center in need. Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Martha’s Table on 14th Street for my Issues in Women’s Health class. For this class, my group’s program was created to teach prevention and treatment for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer for the Gospel Salem Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland. This church is multi-functional and serves as a community center because it houses not only multiple different church services, but is also home to a daycare, school, and karate center.

It was a great experience to create surveys, collect data and establish a program to further inform the members of this community about cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. This program was created to mainly focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, but to also teach ways on how to treat these diseases. The reason why my group chose to focus more on the prevention of these diseases rather than the treatment is because these community members where primarily from Africa and from the survey, we gathered that they had little to no knowledge on these diseases.

The program we created will take three weeks to complete and will take place on Sundays after the church service. Each Sunday will be focus on a different disease, and once the church service is over, there will be an introductory presentation and a group activity to enhance the knowledge of the diseases. Many of the members of this community are not accustomed to the American culture, and my group thought it would be a good idea to create activities that could enlighten them on the American health culture.

After creating this program and almost completing this class, I have a much greater appreciation for health promotion program planners. It takes a lot of time and effort when it comes to finding a target audience, picking a topic in which they need help learning about, and creating a program to benefit them. I have learned that many theories, models and marketing tactics that are incorporated into creating health promotion programs. When originally taking this class, I had no idea how in-depth health promotion programs had to be. Overall, I had a great experience creating this program for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church. Taking this class has given me a glimpse of what I could be doing once I graduate. I now have a greater appreciation and I am even more excited to start my career after college. It has been such a pleasure volunteering for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church and finding ways to further enhance the knowledge on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Carly Perry, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

I am often asked what it is like to be a D1 student-athlete at American University. My honest answer is that college soccer is (1) time consuming (2) incredibly exhausting (physically and mentally) and (3) emotionally draining. But, in the end, playing college soccer is 100% worth it. When I committed to play Division-One soccer, I knew that activities I loved in High School- student government and volunteering- my not fit into my college schedule. Unfortunately, I was right. I am a senior this year and I have spent nowhere near the amount of time that I wanted to spend volunteering in the community and on campus.  So, when I heard about the CSLP (community service learning project) program that American University offers, I applied right away. This program is exactly what I needed this semester: a way for me to feel connected to the community and a structured program that kept me on track and organized.

Last spring, when I signed up for the Health Promotion Program Planning course with Professor Free, I did not realize that this class would work great for the CSLP credit. The purpose of this course is to learn how to create health programs for specific communities. So, the entire semester my group has worked hard to create a nutrition program plan for the community members of Montgomery Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. It has been a very cool experience to work Montgomery Baptist Church as our community partner because the church community is very diverse. Many of the members are from different countries in Africa and they greatly vary in their health needs, socio-economic status and education level. With this in-mind, my group worked hard to create a nutrition program that would appeal to majority of the members; it is called ‘Four weeks 4 Change.’

In order for my group members and I to create the nutrition plan for Montgomery Baptist Church, we went through a lot of different steps. To create this plan, we surveyed the community members, conducted research on past programs, drafted proposals and developed weekly lesson plans. Each week we met to work on our project and some weeks we received positive feedback and other weeks we were instructed to fix part of our plan. Professor Free challenged my group and we learned a lot from her feedback and her questions about our plan.  I expected to be challenged by Professor Free but I did not expect to face challenges with my group members. I did not always feel that the work was equally divided amongst us and I took on a lot of the work. But, in the end, I learned how to communicate effectively with both group members so that all of the work was done on time and done well.

I absolutely recommend any student at American University to engage in the CSLP one credit program if they are given the opportunity. The students at American University are lucky to have CSLP because those in charge are so organized, incredibly helpful and student-friendly. Personally, this has been different than any volunteer work I have done in the past.  In the past, a lot of the volunteer work I did were “one-time” events like delivering food on thanksgiving or packing shoeboxes at Christmas time. This project was an entire semester long, 40+ hours. At the beginning, I was a little concerned about how many hours I had to put into the project, but creating the nutrition program plan has been so much more fulfilling and I have learned so much more than past volunteer experiences. If I were not graduating this spring, I would engage in another community service project through the CSLP at American University.

Anisa Shafiq, Marie Reed Elementary

Hi! My name is Anisa – I’m a fifth year at American University majoring in Sociology with a personal focus and interest in education. This semester I’m mentoring at Marie Reed Elementary with American University’s D.C. Reads and the Higher Achievement Program. This entails being a mentor to a small group of 6th grade students once a week on Tuesdays after school hours. During program, my group along with all the other mentors and their groups, meet for community meeting, where we do a fun activity or two to start the day off right. After that, we meet for about an hour in our small groups. During this time my co-mentor and I spend most of our time teaching a Higher Achievement provided math curriculum to our four students. Sometimes, splitting off into two small groups is required due to our scholars’ achievement levels, and sometimes one-on-one mentoring is required. After this hour is over, all of the groups get together once again to recap the evening and have Higher Achievement deliver some announcements.

This is my second semester doing service with CSLP, and the second program I’ve worked with. My first semester, I served with KidPower. It was a very different experience than working with HAP, and at first, I was very overwhelmed at the amount of structure and guidance I seemed to be getting. I attended hours and hours of orientations and was handed a bunch of packets with tons of instructions, and this was not at all how KidPower was being run. The format of everything was so different than what I had been previously exposed to. I was very nervous at first. But as the weeks went on, I realized that it was the same basic principle – being there for these students that counted on seeing me once a week, whether that was teaching them how to do decimal division or playing a game with them. It was still being a mentor. KidPower taught me SO much – it’s the foundation that I have in regards to working with younger students. Being a mentor with HAP has allowed me to continue to do so, on a smaller scale.

George Marschall, Capital Area Food Bank & Martha’s Table

Food aid is a common theme within the international development community. Ideas circulate within “developed nations” that high income countries don’t face issues of food insecurity or food waste. In studies of international food aid, students consistently learn about “Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods” like Plumpy’nut or BP-5, Therapeutic Feeding Centers and Supplementary Feeding Programs. These concepts create a conceptual schism between our understanding of global hunger and local hunger. As a result, it becomes difficult to understand that food insecurity does not exclusively affect nations that suffer from famines and droughts. A year ago, I was fortunate enough to take my Global Hunger class with Professor Carruth who drew comparisons between domestic and international food insecurity. What I learned forced me to confront my preconceptions of food insecurity, something that has pushed me to dedicate my time to two distinct organizations with Washington, DC that are dedicated to eradicating this problem: the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) and Martha’s Table.

Responding to the imminent cutbacks to the Food Stamp Program in Washington, DC, the United Planning Organization and Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington banded together in 1980 to create the Capital Area Food Bank. The food bank is dedicated to a mission of creating access to healthy foods for all communities in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. It is the largest organization within the metro area that works to solve hunger and the various problems that come with it, notably heart disease, chronic undernutrition and diabetes. This organization depends not only on food donations from people, corporations and farms throughout the region but also volunteers who help by sorting the various donations for the communities in need. The tasks assigned to the volunteer vary greatly every week from sorting good and bad apples, categorizing foods to creating lunch bags for students and senior citizens.

Martha’s Table was founded on the principle of ensuring that children within Washington, DC are safe and have access to healthy food. Established in 1979, the founders, Dr. Veronica Maz and Father Horace B. McKenna were concerned that the 14th Street Corridor was a particularly dangerous area that children in the region needed protection from. As a result, their creation, Martha’s Table, gave students a place to go and eat after school. The expansion of the organization has been dramatic to say the least. While Martha’s Table continues to carry out its original mission of protecting children, it now dedicates itself to protecting adults and their access to safe food as well. While volunteering with this organization I worked in their food truck, which delivers food to at-risk communities within DC.

While many students who choose to take the Community Service Learning Program work with one distinct organization, I feel that working at both locations has expanded my understanding of the various efforts within Washington, DC to protect people’s access to safe and nutritional foods. Among the most interesting things I witnessed at both organizations is their completely different approach to mitigating the problem of hunger. The CAFB is primarily dedicated to redirecting food within the district. The Food Bank prevents products from being thrown in the trash and brought to the landfill, by storing them at their facility and delivering them to other organizations that bring them to community members in need. Martha’s Table is one of these very organizations that benefits from the Food Bank’s efforts.

My position at these non-profits has me working on almost every part of the food security project. I sorted and condensed the food within the Food Bank to deliver to the same organization that I helped with handing out meals to the homeless. This unique experience was baffling in the capacity that the Food Bank itself seems so distantly removed from the people suffering from Hunger but is incredibly key to the process of preventing that hunger. Martha’s Table, while magnificent in its own right, depends on the work of the volunteers at CAFB for the dissemination of food. Without Martha’s Table and organizations like it, the Food Bank would be unable to disperse donated food to the community. Washington, DC has a well-oiled machine of food security non-profits. While the amount of people suffering from food insecurity in DC is staggering, my work at these organizations has made it clear that effort is everywhere. I am grateful for all that I have been able to witness this past semester and hope that I have made an impact on the lives of some members of the community affected by hunger.

Emma Goetzinger, Green America

My name is Emma Goetzinger, and I am a sophomore. I am planning to declare a major in public health following the B.S. track and a minor in biology. I am connecting my CSLP credit to my environmental health class, and I am working with Green America. As soon as I saw that Green America was on the list of organizations that students frequently work with as part of the CSLP program and read the description, I knew that it was going to be an organization that I would be interested in. The mission of Green America is to work with the economic power and influence of consumers, investors, business, and the marketplace in order to create a just environmentally sustainable society. Green America works towards making sure that everyone in the world has access to adequate resources and has the ability to live in an environment that is healthy, clean and safe, as well as ensuring that Earth’s resources will be preserved for generations to come.

Green America’s work is focused on six main areas, which include climate, food, finance, labor, social justice and green living. Since food sustainability and access to safe and healthy food are both environmental health issues that I am interested in and that we have discussed in class, I chose to do work relating to the food area. Within the area of food, Green America concentrates on GMOs, the overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals, and the encouragement of sustainable agriculture. For example, Green America has conducted extensive research regarding multiple concerns with GMOs such as the lack of proper regulation and the development of “superweeds” and pests that are resistant to chemicals. I recently completed my first project while working with Green America, which was to create a milk map. The purpose of this milk map was to encourage Starbucks to begin offering organic milk by showing all of the other coffee chains and independent coffee shops across the country that already do so. First, I collected data and information about which coffee shops in areas around the country currently offer organic milk. Then, I organized the information into an online directory and created the actual map showing where all of the coffee shops are located. This took a while to finish, since I had to contact many of the coffee shops individually to ask them about what milk they offered.

Working with Green America has been an extremely positive and enriching experience, and I am looking forward to receiving instructions about my next project later this week. It has been a great way to get more involved in my community as well as the environmental movement, and through my work I’ve realized just how interested in environmental health I am. Many of the areas that Green America focuses on, such as climate change, food and green living are also focuses of the environmental health field.  Volunteering with an organization that researches and investigates many of the same things that I have been learning about in class has really deepened my understanding of the subject of environmental health. I feel as though the work that I’ve been doing is actually meaningful, as the health of our environment impacts us all. This makes me excited to continue working with Green America, even after the CSLP program has ended. Through this experience, I’ve definitely grown more comfortable reaching out to new people, as that was something I had to do to get this opportunity to begin with and while collecting information to use in my map. This will be an important skill that I will be able to continue to use throughout college and beyond.

Mary Ney, African Immigration Health Promotion Lab

As a public health major, in-class lectures offer plans and theories and models just waiting to be used in the real world.  You hear success stories and stories of failure, what to do and what not to do, but you never get to just do it. However, this semester I have the opportunity to just do it through Health Promotion Program Planning class in partnership with the African American Health Promotion Lab. This class allows for real world applications of concepts learned in the classroom, which enhances the overall learning experience.

Through this community partnership, we are tasked with assessing the needs of the Salem Ministries church community in order to develop a program targeting a specific issue. The African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is committed to educating and improving the health of immigrants from the African diaspora. They specifically address health disparities within this community. My task in partnership with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is to address issues in child nutrition and food access, and to create a program that will improve diet choices among this population.

At the service site, my classmates and I conducted a needs assessment of the community through observations and surveys, and based our plans off this information, as well as outside research. Initially, I thought this would be a simple task—find out what a population needs and make plans to provide that. However, this task has proven to be increasingly difficult because of all the moving parts. Not only are planning logistics often difficult to coordinate, but this program also has the potential to affect the lives of people whom we have met and those we have not. Working on a real project for a community partner has been incredibly rewarding, because of this potential.

This project is particularly important to me because I work for a child nutrition program in DC area schools. This experience, as well as the concepts learned in Health Promotion Program Planning and other public health classes, have enhanced my love for health and healthy eating, and provided a tangible option to work with an issue I am passionate about.

Kaitlyn McTernan, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.”  Preventative measures in health care can substantially decrease both the risk and likelihood of acquiring diseases, ones that are harmful and can potentially lead to death.  In HPRM-335: Health Promotion Program Planning, we learn the appropriate ways in which to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion programs.  There is a particular emphasis on health and lifestyle risk factors and interventions.  I have been able to use and implement a variety of these strategies this course has taught me in my own service work, to name a few: needs assessment, goals and objective writing and implementing appropriate preventative measures.

In working with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL), I have been completing my service work with Salem Gospel Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland.  The mission of AIHPL is promoting health through systematic research and evidence based community health promotion.  One of this organization’s main goals is promoting health behaviors among immigrants of African descent.  They go about achieving this goal by reaching out to immigrants of African descent to conduct various screenings, tests and health education programs.  Another goal of AIHPL is influencing health promotion paradigms and models among this population.  The models that they use are culturally competent and take into consideration social determinants of health in regards to current issues faced by immigrants. One of the main platforms of communication that they use are faith-based communities to achieve their overall program goals, which is why I have decided to volunteer with the Salem Gospel Ministry Church.  This church community is comprised of immigrants from Africa, with many of them being from Congo.  Among this population, there are high percentages of members with cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.  These numbers could be alleviated if awareness of these diseases increases and if more preventative measures are provided to the church’s congregation.

While volunteering at the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab, I have been working on writing and implementing a health promotion plan that addresses ways to decrease the presence of cardiovascular disease, various strains of cancer and diabetes in innovative ways that are both culturally competent and effective.  The first stride I took to achieve this goal was writing and conducting a needs assessment to determine the needs or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or wants of the target population, in this case the immigrants of the African diaspora at Salem Gospel Ministry.  I analyzed the information that I obtained from this assessment to formulate a detailed program plan that addresses, educates and implements preventative measures for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes with a goal of decreasing the severity of or number of members who have these diseases.  My program consists of a three-day workshop, with one day being dedicated to each of the three diseases.  Each day of the program has an educational component followed by an activity that reinforces what they have learned, which addresses the varying learning styles present in the community and allows all members to learn.  Additionally, after the conclusion of each day, preventative services, such as blood pressure tests, cholesterol screenings and many others will be offered to the members.

When first deciding to undertake this task, I was unsure of what to expect but was filled with excitement, as I knew it was a great opportunity to gain experience in a career path that I am considering pursuing in my future endeavors.  I expected to be confronted with the obstacle of overcoming the language barrier between myself, who only speaks English, and the members of this church who primarily speak French.  However, this was a hurdle that was easily jumped over as they have a translator present during all services and church related functions.  Additionally, this population is extremely welcoming to others who come from very different backgrounds than themselves. This experience was an extremely rewarding one that I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience from.  Through working with this community, I have learned that education and prevention are key components in deterring the presence of diseases.  Overall, this program has solidified Ben Franklin’s wise words that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound, if not more, of care.

Hannah Jacks, The Family Place

As a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Spanish and Public Administration & Policy, my interests lie heavily in the crossover between politics and community work. Fortunately, I was able to connect my two interests through the CSLP program, by linking my community work to my Spanish class, SPAN-456: Latin American Chronicles. In my Spanish class, we have covered various topics through analyzing works from Latin American politicians, revolutionaries, and authors. This has provided me great insight into the history of Latin American government and culture, both ancient and recent, and has truly enriched my experience volunteering as an Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place DC.

The Family Place is a nonprofit organization serving the immigrant community in Washington, DC. The organization strives to “empower low-income families and to foster the optimal development of their young children through educational and support services.” In other words, they wish to help as many as they can by offering classes and services through a variety of programs, including Family Literacy, Family Wellness, and Family Stability. The most popular classes offered at The Family Place are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, in which they offer both beginner and intermediate levels. Other classes include Parenting, Spanish Literacy, and Nutrition classes. An overwhelming majority of students at The Family Place are Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants, and their ages range from 18 to 70 years old. The organization is very true to its name, in that students tend to be so comfortable coming to class every day and enjoying lunch and gossiping with each other that it almost feels like family. The nonprofit does a fantastic job at making all students feel comfortable and ready to learn by offering a free lunch for students and always offering help in any way possible. In fact, many students have so much fun in the English classes that it’s hard to believe they are learning so much.

At The Family Place, I assume the role of an Assistant ESL Instructor. Every Wednesday, I assist in the beginner English classes by working directly with students and leading some lessons on grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. My expectations for my service-learning experience at The Family Place were pretty clear: I expected to help by giving a lot of individualized attention to students and doing what the instructor asked of me. As a matter of fact, my position has changed a great deal since I first began. I have assumed a more central role in the English classes, instructing the class as a whole and leading the class more than I expected. Rather than simply doing what the instructor asks of me, I often use my own knowledge and perception to realize what the class needs, and act independently. The ESL instructor seems to be very thankful that I have experience teaching English and can help in a more substantial way than simply making copies. Taking on this more central role has been both difficult and rewarding. While I hadn’t originally noticed it, the number of different English levels among students in the class is huge. It is often extremely frustrating to repeat a lesson numerous times to a part of the class that is at a lower level, while the other students understand the lesson the first time it is taught. However, it is very important to make sure that all students learn – not just the more advanced students. Therefore, it becomes really rewarding once all the students master a subject. Many students have been taking the beginner classes for years, and have still not advanced to the intermediate class, so it is an unspoken rule to work extra hard to make sure these students feel like they are working this hard for a reason.

While working at The Family Place, I have certainly learned many lessons. One such lesson, which I learned both at The Family Place and in SPAN-456, is to never generalize a community. Although the nonprofit helps immigrants, it is important to recognize that the immigrant community is not homogeneous. Every person comes from a different background, community, and family. It is also extremely important to be welcoming, open, and consistent when working at The Family Place, and at any community-based organization. It is imperative to gain the trust of the individuals you intend to help, and to do this, one must become a part of the community rather than remain an outsider looking in. This being said, one must consistently show up to volunteer and show a sense of vulnerability in order to be seen as equals by the students.

By taking on the role of Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place, I have learned a great deal about the individuals I work with, and also about the importance of community-based work. I feel like I have escaped a bubble that I’ve been living in at American University, and had real-life experience working with people who are very different than me. Above all, I’ve had a great time learning about the community and playing a valuable part in the everyday lives of the students.


Jenna Green, National Presbyterian School

My name is Jenna, and I am a public health major. This semester my friend told me about the National Presbyterian School and the after school programs there, and I immediately found interest in working there. Fortunately, a seat in Dr. Enchautegui’s adolescent Psychology class opened up, and after reading about CSLP, I wanted to try combining my work at the school with my psychology class.

The National Presbyterian School is located on Nebraska Avenue between American University’s campus and Tenleytown. The school’s mission is to provide a high quality education with a focus on Christian ideals. Their core values are love, respect, honesty, responsibility, and safety. The school has a strong focus on Christian values, but I do not identify with any particular; however, I since beginning my work at the school I have begun to think about and honor these values more in my everyday life.

Within the school, I work with the After 3 Club program. This program provides supervision and education opportunities for students whose parents are unable to pick them up at the end of the typical school day. The program provides tutoring, classes, and time for kids to play. I believe this program is really important because many parents are unable to leave work at 2 in order to take their kids home. I think that this in particular really addresses socioeconomic differences. In order for parents to be waiting at the school by 3 to pick up their children, at least one parent has to have a job flexible enough to leave work early every day or stay home. This is unrealistic for most families due to financial constraints, so it is important that these children are not left to their own devices after school lets out.

My average day includes planning programming for the students, helping with homework, making sure they have snacks/ are being fed, and playing with them until they’re picked up by a parent. I really like this site because I have the opportunity to work with children/adolescents ages 3 to 13. I go three days a week, and something that I really enjoy about the time I spend at NPS is watching each child develop. These developments include anything from kids recognizing their own names to mastering multiplication. It’s really rewarding, and the students are all fun to get to know. What I was not expecting was how challenging it is to balance the school’s values with the individual student’s values. By this I mean: the school and program try to foster an atmosphere that supports the values I listed earlier, but not all the families necessarily respect or follow these values. Because of this, sometimes it is difficult to have discussions with parents and discuss how we’re noticing these moral conflicts in their children.

My adolescent psychology class focuses a lot more on the older children. During the days I am at the school, I can reflect on what I have learned in class when I see them transitioning into adolescents both psychologically and physiologically. I met with Dr. Enchautegui the other day and shared some of my experiences with her, and it was really fun to discuss what I’ve been observing with someone else. It also makes my class a lot more interesting and meaningful because I am able to connect so much of what we learn in class to real life experiences that I have witnessed. Working with the school not only supplemented my class, but it provided me with more interest and a desire to learn more about child and adolescent development.

Lee Sandler, Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries

I am Lee Sandler, I am twenty-two years old, and I am from the city of sunny Tel Aviv. I am a Junior at American University and I am studying Public Health and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. Being a woman from Israel automatically means that I must serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for two years, men, on the other hand, serve for three. When most people at AU hear that I was in the army, they immediately assume that I did something aggressive and violent as part of my service. Students immediately ask me if I was in combat and practiced “Krav Maga” on a daily basis… I always chuckle when hearing this, because little do they know that my position in the military was the equivalent to a social worker in America.

Being a social worker meant that I was in charge of making sure lone soldiers were well treated, I was there to help soldiers with their financial issues, and helped families in need. These two years have changed my outlook on life. I have been giving back to the community ever since I can remember, and holding that position for two years really opened my eyes and exposed me to a lot of people with incredible stories. I did not want to stop volunteering once starting AU. As a result, I decided to join the CSLP program.

This is my second time volunteering with CSLP. I volunteered for the first time in the Spring of 2016 (when I was a freshman), at an after-school care program, called M.O.M.I.E’s, for underprivileged kids. This time, I am giving back in a completely new way. Since the start of the semester, I have combined my Health Promotion Program Planning class with CSLP, allowing me to make my learning experience more meaningful. As a class, we are working with Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries, located in Silver Spring. Each group has a different health issue that they are focused on, allowing us to create a health promotion plan for our focused community.

My group and I are focused on intimate partner violence. At the start of the semester, we focused on creating an effective survey to be able to identify our target population. We wanted to see how prevalent the issue was within our society. When we visited the church, we spent a Sunday with our community and participated in service. After the engaging service, we handed out the surveys and helped our community fill them out. Currently, we are working on using all of the analyzed data that we have collected, and putting it into a meaningful health program. Our aim is to educate our community on intimate partner violence in order to prevent its occurrence and try to change this culture’s norm in those regards. This project is allowing me to experience a real program plan and implement it to a community where it is necessary. I feel like I am making a difference and that my hard work will make a difference in someone’s life.

Rachel Dean, DC Rape Crisis Center

My name is Rachel, and I’m an International Studies major at AU, with a minor in Arabic Language and focuses in identity, ethics/human rights, and the Middle East. I am currently volunteering with the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) as a crisis intervention advocate on the DCRCC hotline. The DCRCC’s mission is to eliminate sexual violence and promote a culture of consent through various support services for survivors of sexual violence. The DCRCC provides resources and services such as counseling and therapy, legal services, community outreach and education, institutional and system advocacy, and more. As a hotline advocate, I take calls on the 24-hour DCRCC hotline and speak to survivors in need of support. The hotline is survivor-centered, meaning, as an advocate, I use consensual language to enable the survivor to guide the conversation towards what he/she/they need, whether that is someone to talk to, specific resources, or safety planning. I have paired this volunteer work with my Gender and Development class, which discusses the connection between gender, specifically focusing on women, and systems and methods of development.

My introduction to the DCRCC hotline was a gradual one, as I had a two-month, 60-hour training process to prepare for the role of a hotline advocate. When I first entered training, I expected the position to be a sort of counseling role, where I’d talk callers through emotional problems, like suicide and depression. I was nervous because I had no idea how to handle calls, and no idea how I’d even go about learning something that seemed extremely wide-ranging in terms of the nature of situations that could come up. However, as training progressed, I grew more and more confident. We began with foundational, conceptual training regarding the science of trauma, children and childhood trauma, the importance of elements of identity, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the dynamics of power, rape culture, and consent. We further learned how to connect this foundational knowledge with work on the hotline. We discussed a caller’s identity as important to how they experience and react to trauma, and consent as important on the hotline to give callers confidence and agency in determining the outcome of the call and their situation. My expectations for the hotline changed in that I no longer view the hotline as therapy, but rather as a sort of intermediary resource that connects survivors to other resources, and facilitates the day-to-day survival of those dealing with the trauma of sexual violence. When I started actually working on the hotline and talking to callers, these new expectations were met and I realized how thorough the training was in preparing me for hotline advocacy.

The nature of this work, especially its foundational knowledge, connects with the learning objectives of my Gender and Development class. In class, we discussed dynamics of power and how those dynamics play out in society between men and women, where men have hegemonic power over women. In this way, men control the public/productive sphere, which includes politics and monetarized work, while women dominate the reproductive sphere, which includes homemaking and child-rearing. Because men control politics, and therefore policy-making, men create the policies, and even the discourses, on women’s sexuality and fertility. In essence, men control women’s bodies through their societal-political dominance. Further, men, who are seen as “naturally” part of the productive sphere, earn the money for the household as “breadwinners,” and therefore are also the decision-maker heads of the household. This relates to sexual violence, rape culture, and culture of consent, where power and power dynamics are at their core. Sexual violence is about asserting power over someone, and making them feel powerless by taking away their agency. Rape culture is the manifestation of men’s power over women’s bodies, where victims are blamed and perpetrators are held unaccountable. A culture of consent is about giving people the power to make their own decisions about their bodies, and, in general, their lives. On the hotline, the use of consensual language is vital, as my job is to give the caller their agency back in making their own choices. I don’t tell them what they should do or what they should want (as much as I’d like to sometimes!), I let the caller guide the conversation and tell me what they want to do, empowering them to act in a way that suits their specific needs in that moment.

Additionally, in my Gender and Development class, we talked about different feminist methods of development. The main one we discussed is the post-modern feminist development approach, in which a practice is deconstructed to its root cultural ideology in order to reform it. For example, female genital cutting (FGC) is opposed by many activist NGOs. While some organizations have worked on criminalizing the practice, this actually proves more harmful, since the practice isn’t eliminated and instead it is driven to be done in dangerous, unsanitary places and situations. Therefore, those seeking to eliminate the practice need to deconstruct it, look at the cultural ideals behind it, and work from there in order to end the practice. Similarly, rape culture can be eliminated, and a culture of consent can be built, through this approach of deconstruction and reconstruction, which I believe is already underway in the US. Organizations like the DCRCC, as I’ve learned from working on the hotline, are vital parts of this cultural reformation, as they not only work with and help survivors of sexual violence, but they also inform policy and the public about these harmful societal structures and how to change them. They create a new discourse that challenges old discourses of rape culture, in effect paving the way to dismantling the existence of sexual violence.

Kayla Eaton, DC Central Kitchen & DC Food Policy Council

This past semester I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about food issues in DC, through engaging with DC Central Kitchen and DC Food Policy Council. DC Food Policy Council. According to DC Hunger Solutions, of the 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and three in Ward 8. By contrast, Ward 3 – the highest income Ward – has eleven full service stores. Wards 7 and 8 have the District’s highest poverty rates and highest obesity rates ( DC Food Policy Council was created in 2014 to combat food issues in the city. The mayor appointed 13 members to serve on the board, ranging from nonprofit leaders, scholars, business owners and community members. The council has four working groups that tackle different issues: sustainable food procurement, local food business & labor development, urban agriculture & food system education, food equity, access, and health & nutrition education. The Council collects and analyzes data on the local food economy and recommends policy to “promote food access, food sustainability, and a local food economy in the District” (DC Food Policy website).

My first meeting was the Sustainable Food Procurement working group. The meeting consisted of people from different organizations like DC Greens and Dreaming Out Loud, self-described “food geeks,” and a few community members. Each strategic group had a short term and long-term goal as well as main mission. The bill that they were reviewing that day would loosen up restrictions on what food can be donated. This would lessen food waste and help food security. We had a long discussion on the arbitrary nature of best by, sell by, and use by dates. We also discussed the “Good Food Program.” This started in LA, and DC is looking to replicate this program. This would mean that every DC Public School would locally source their food. At the last meeting they reviewed what the program was and assigned tasks to every person at the meeting. It was clearly a community effort and the work relied on the willingness of the members. The next working group meeting I attended was the local food business & labor development. We discussed the Cottage Food Act, which pertains to people making food in their house and selling it online without inspection of their house.

I also spent my time volunteering at DC Central Kitchen, an incredible non-profit that aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty through “innovated social ventures” (DCCK website). The most interesting thing that happened whilst volunteering for DCCK happened on my way to the site for my second shift. Having already volunteered once before at a different location, I didn’t look at where exactly the kitchen was. As I rode the escalator out of the Judiciary Square station I typed in DC Central Kitchen into my maps and strolled through the streets. I came to a large building with no clear markings. People hung out outside having conversations with each other, not paying much attention to me. I remembered from the volunteer intro video that the main kitchen lay under the largest shelter in America. This must be it. There were no signs for the kitchen so I walked up the block, pulling up the email with directions. Two men stood against the wall of the building conversing. A black man running up and down the street exercising past me. I stood on the corner and called Mariah, who I was meeting for lunch. The running man asked me if I was lost, I smiled, laughing, and explained that I was, but my friend had given me directions, and now I knew where to go. He stood with his feet wide and raised his arms in front of him to mimic holding a gun.

“You’re not welcome here”.

It was cold out that day and my eyes had been watering from the wind. The stoplight changed and cars rushed past us. A lanky white woman with a knitted hat aged 22, trying to ignore the fact that a black man in his 30s was aiming an imaginary rifle in intimidation at her. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t a white gentrifier taking over the neighborhood. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t attempting to tell him how to live his life. I wanted to tell him that I was a student currently learning about gentrification in DC. I wanted to tell him that I worked for a syringe exchange service and provided health services judgment-free to sex workers, drug users, and those experiencing homelessness. I wanted to tell him that yesterday I had shared an article about police brutality in DC. I wanted to tell him that one time I went to a Standing up For Racial Justice meeting. I wanted to tell him that I was on his side. But what does any of that mean?

I said I’m sorry and continued walking.

“For what?”

“For being here.”

I was aware of me whiteness, my femininity, my class, my privilege and the space that I was taking up. I was aware of the number of people that flood to that corner every week to ‘save the community’ to ‘feed the poor’. To feel complacent in a system built to oppress, to feel justified to continue living the way they do, the way I do. And I was just another one of them. Even if I wanted to explain that I wasn’t, I was. A white family walked behind me in colorful Washington DC hats, they asked if I was okay. I assured them that I was fine. And I was fine. I didn’t take this personally. I attempted to empathize with him. This man didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him either. I assumed him to be a man, assumed him to be black, assumed him to have some disorder as he had pointed an imaginary gun at me, which in all honesty was extremely terrifying. I knew there was nothing there but there was something about that situation that haunts me. It would have been different if he had just yelled that. But that imaginary gun, he believed in it, and so did I. The motion was so deliberate that I had put my hands up, showing my empty palms.

I don’t share this interaction to incite sympathy for myself, or try to pretend I’m a victim or that I’m tough or with it. I share this interaction because it needs to be asked: what does this interaction have to do with food & agriculture? And what is the larger context? For one, it reminds me of the distinction between intent and impact. I have great intentions but I must be aware of my impact as well. I want to help with DC’s food insecurity, but I have to interrogate why I want to help and how. No one knows the issue better than those experiencing it. I need to ensure I am lifting up voices that have been oppressed, listening to the solutions that the community is proposing, be in touch with the already existing networks that are fighting for access to healthy foods. I need to be aware of saviorism, of the white man’s burden, of histories of colonialism and the way they manifest today. It reminds me that you can’t talk about food issues without talking about labor issues and identities and race and class and politics and history. I wanted so badly for that man to know that I understand, but in reality, do I truly understand?

Sam Groskind, Bread for the City

I’m Sam Groskind, a Law and Society major at American University. This semester I’ve been volunteering at Bread for the City as part of the CSLP program for my Intro to Public Health course. Bread for the City is a nonprofit that provides a multitude of services to Washington DC’s most vulnerable residents. Their motto is “Dignity, Respect, and Service,” and they accomplish this through medical, legal, and social services, and by distributing food and clothing. I have been volunteering in the food pantry, which has given my the opportunity to witness the hunger and poverty that persists in our nation’s capital. Many Americans don’t see poverty in their daily lives, which leaves them unaware of the fact that millions of people in this country are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The same is true for many students at American University. Many of us are affluent and have come here from all over the country, yet few of us get the chance to interact with and serve the
DC community.

I’ve volunteered at food banks on and off my whole life, so I felt prepared for the work itself. However, I was a little apprehensive at how I’d be received by the staff and clients in the food bank, but those fears were entirely unfounded. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a good time. The most important thing for me is to treat the clients with dignity, because the truth is, it’s not easy to ask for help when you need it most. I learn the most from my conversations with the food pantry staff and in my quick interactions with clients, and I’m able to tie some of it into what I’ve been learning in Public Health.

It’s been interesting to observe what kinds of food the clients choose. Some are only familiar with processed foods, and they’ll ask for white rice or spaghetti, white bread and crackers, and they don’t want certain vegetables because they don’t like them or aren’t sure how to use them. Others look forward to coming to the food pantry because it might be the only time during the week that they are able to access healthier options such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, and lean meat. Bread for the City partners with local farmers markets and farms to collect unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste, and they encourage clients to choose the healthier options when possible.

All in all, this has been an incredible experience and I encourage everyone who can to find a nonprofit in DC and volunteer. I realized that Tuesdays have become my favorite day this semester because that’s when I volunteer. It’s a fairly long commute and the work is exhausting, but there’s no substitute for the gratification that comes from giving your time and effort to those who need it the most.

Samuel Oswald, Mary House

My name is Samuel Oswald. I am a freshman studying International Relations at American University. At the beginning of this semester, I decided to combine the Community Services Learning Program (CSLP) with my Social Justice and Science College Writing course taught by Professor Michael Moreno. With the help of Professor Moreno and the CSLP staff, I found an opportunity to volunteer at the Mary House in Brookland, Washington, DC. This organization provides after school care and learning support to children from the area. The Mary House has also partnered with Panera Bread and YES Organic in an effort to distribute surpluses of food to families connected to the organization.

I joined the Mary House as an after school program assistant. With around twenty children ranging in age from 3 to 13 years old and only three full-time program leaders, there was plenty for me to do on a regular basis. I tried to entertain, read, and study with the children for the hours they were at the Mary House each day.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous to work with children because I had never been responsible for someone else before. My worries were cast aside after one session with the Mary House. The kids were energetic and sometimes wild, but my job of watching over them was far from difficult. They ate snacks, went outside to play, came inside to read, and then did arts and crafts. I joined them in their fun whenever they wanted me around. If they did not want me around, I sat back and made sure that their playing with each other did not turn into fighting. Again, my job was easy.

I have yet to mention that many of the children at the Mary House have parents who recently immigrated to the United States. Here in lies my experiences’ connection to my Social Justice and Science course. I discovered through working with the Mary House how important providing a supportive community to people who are rebuilding their lives half a world away from where they previously lived. Simple after school programs are perfect for building this supportive community. I am trying to convey my experience with the Mary House in an editorial I am writing for Professor Moreno on the importance of community support in reference to immigrant mental health. I see a correlation, so I am trying to convince others to pay attention.

I hope that other students will take the opportunity to enrich their educational experience at American University through CSLP. I had a wonderful time working with the Mary House. I met a lot of great adults and children and was able to expand my knowledge by learning outside of the classroom. CSLP gave me an excuse to spend less time studying and more time becoming a part of the Washington, DC community off campus. So often, students like myself get caught up in the academic aspects of college that we forget there are other ways of learning. I will be forever thankful to have been pushed towards the Mary House by CSLP. I am for sure continuing my work with the organization after my completion of the program.

Anika Tahsin, Humanwire

My name is Anika Tahsin, and I am a junior majoring in International Studies. For the Community Service Learning Program, I worked with Humanwire in order to build on the themes discussed in my Migration and Development class.

Humanwire is a crowdfunding website helping refugees across the world. Humanwire takes away the middleman from the equation, directly connecting donors to refugees and refugee families. Every dollar donated goes to refugees in need. If donors are inclined to support the work of the organization, they can donate to a different fund that goes towards Humanwire employees’ wages.

I am in charge of writing refugee profiles for Humanwire. On-the-ground volunteers and interpreters register refugees into the Humanwire system and help refugees fill out questionnaires. I consolidate the questionnaires and put together a profile, building a coherent narrative telling the story of the individual or the family. On a few occasions, I even had the opportunity to converse with refugee families directly via Skype. Having the opportunity to form my own questions and communicate face to face definitely helped me understand the conditions in refugee camps better.

Going in, I knew working for Humanwire would not be easy. I was proven right by the stories I encountered. Refugees are among some of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world. They live lives filled with danger and uncertainty. Almost every case I was given was wrapped in pain and loss. The work took an emotional toll on me, especially in the beginning. However, I knew that the work I was doing was important and I refused to let myself become discouraged.

As time went on, I found that the work became easier. It wasn’t that I became desensitized to the stories of hardship. On the contrary, I was assigned more difficult cases as time went on since I now had more experience with the work. What made the work easier was seeing the fruits of my labor. Refugee profiles that I had written were chosen by sponsors and campaigns were launched for the refugee families. I checked in on the campaigns daily and celebrated when the campaign goal was matched. This part of the experience was very rewarding, and it encouraged me to keep working through difficult cases in the future.

The topic of refugees covers a large section of my Migration and Development class. My experience with Humanwire allowed to see the theories and challenges discussed in class being played out in the real world. I found the gender aspect of refugee life especially interesting, as most of the cases I worked on for Humanwire involved women. Challenges that were specific to female refugees also helped me further understand the need for intersectional feminism in the world.

Isabelle Samko, Women for Women International

“I am eager to continue this path of community involvement and service in my future”

One of the deciding factors for myself as I chose to attend American University was its location in Washington D.C. I love cities because they allow you to learn so much about the history of the location, about the different neighborhoods and communities, about the people, and about yourself. I knew that as a student here, I would spend a lot of my time in the city, immersing myself in the knowledge available to me outside of the classroom. I went to high school in a big city as well, and devoted a lot of my time to volunteering at various organizations in the community. This allowed me to appreciate the strong bonds I saw between community members helping each other out, and meet incredible people whose life stories continue to amaze me today.

Being a freshman and adjusting to the changes that college brings, I wasn’t quite sure how to get involved in a way that wouldn’t completely overwhelm me. However, when I happened to stop by the CSLP table at the involvement fair, I realized this was the perfect program to ease myself into community involvement, and I applied right away.

I decided to pair my CSLP credit to my SIS First Year Seminar: “Power, Justice, and Global Health Among Immigrant and Refugee Populations”, taught by Professor Maria De Jesus. Each time I step into this classroom, I find myself blown away with how much I learn from the discussions between my peers, professor, and I. There are lots of components to this course, so I could have chosen to volunteer at a number of nonprofits with differing focuses, however, I wanted to work for an organization pertaining to immigration and refugee issues because it is a passion of mine that I have personal ties with. My dad fled communist Poland with his two brothers when he was just 19, seeking political asylum in an Austrian refugee camp before immigrating to Canada, and hearing his stories as I was growing up always blew my mind away. My dad had the privilege of going through a generally easy immigration process, while many others do not. Thus, when I found Women For Women International, an organization that supports marginalized women in war-torn countries through programs that enable them to become more self-sufficient and knowledgeable about their rights and protections, I contacted them right away and began volunteering.

Women For Women’s main focus is their year-long social and economic empowerment program that “provides marginalized women with the opportunity, often for the first time in their lives, to come together in classes of 25 women to build support networks, to share experiences, to learn critical skills, and to access new resources” ( Women For Women’s programs are currently in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Nigeria, Iraq, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Each woman enrolled in the program receives a monthly stipend from sponsors around the world, which enables them to buy something beneficial that would allow them to further master their skill, such as a sewing machine, so then they are able to create a sustainable change for themselves and their community.

My job as a volunteer in the office is helping with the correspondence between sponsors and women in the programs, or “sisters” as we call them. Each month, sisters write letters to their sponsors, keeping them updated on their progress in the program. Each week, I read through and organize the letters, then mail them to the sponsors. A few weeks ago, I was also included on a project aimed to gain more sponsors, and I spoke with previous donors to give them more information about Women For Women, and encouraged them to become more involved.

I also really enjoyed being in the presence of the people working for the organization, and hearing about their experiences at program sites and the power of community level participatory work. It was incredible to hear them speak of the progress they saw women make as they grew stronger and more independent throughout the program. The opportunity to volunteer at Women For Women was an incredible experience that tied together my personal passions and my “Power, Justice, and Global Health” course at AU perfectly, and I am eager to continue this path of community involvement and service in my future.


Tiffany Rubio, DC Reads

“I am so grateful to be able to participate in this volunteering opportunity alongside my Social Justice and Urban Education class because being able to see part of the schooling process alongside the theoretical aspects of schools has been inspiring”

Growing up, reading was always very important to me and the experience of my mother reading to me at a young age was a great one. But often many students do not have that kind of experience and can fall behind in their reading level which can create problems for them as they continue their schooling. Through DC Reads at American University, I have been able to volunteer with Reading Partners, an organization that focuses on literacy by recruiting volunteer tutors to come into a school and practice reading skills with students from kindergarten to 5th grade. Reading Partners focuses its programs in urban areas around the country. Urban schools are much different from suburban schools and the experience of these urban students are often filled with obstacles, learning to read being one of them. This semester, I am taking the class Social Justice and Urban Education for my education minor and the many connections I am beginning to make between the class and this experience are eye opening.

At first, being a reading tutor for elementary school students seemed a bit intimidating and after taking my Social Justice and Urban Education class for a couple of weeks, I worried that I would enter the school with no formal tutoring experience and not be able to help the student overcome the barriers. But upon entering the school and becoming more comfortable with the tutoring lessons, I have found that I really love being a reading tutor. The lessons provided by Reading Partners are constructed where the younger children are learning everything from the alphabet to word recognition on top of always beginning and ending the lesson with reading from a book or poem. The older students’ lessons focus more on reading and some analysis. Despite some days being harder than others, being a tutor to kindergarten to 3rd grade students is all about making sure that the students stay positive and excited about learning. I have one student who is an emergent bilingual and although I know some of the lessons may be difficult for her, she is always trying her best and I am there to cheer her on.

As I am learning more in my education classes and my Social Justice and Urban Education class, I am constantly connecting theories and strategies to what I have experienced tutoring in a D.C. school. My class at AU has helped me to analyze the words of other tutors and faculty and observe how the racial makeup of the staff and tutors can impact a student’s learning experience. While looking over the lessons and choices of books, there are some aspects that I would change about the content. I feel that making their reading skills more critical and perhaps putting in some vocabulary that can apply to their everyday social lives so that they can understand the world around them a little bit better would be very beneficial and even eye opening for them as well. But as it is, the curriculum is very comprehensive, and I enjoy the aspects that allow the student to get creative.

Every week, I am truly so excited to see all of my students, all seven of them! When they succeed and try their best, I feel so proud and I hope that they feel supported. Ultimately, I am so grateful to be able to participate in this volunteering opportunity alongside my Social Justice and Urban Education class because being able to see part of the schooling process alongside the theoretical aspects of schools has been inspiring. I feel that this experience has shown to me how passionate I am about education and teaching. I know how important my mother reading to me helped me on my path through school and I hope seeing my smiling, silly face as I act out a book about a frog learning to swim is at least a bright spot in my students’ day.

Krishnendu Mangal, The Green Scheme

“One thing I learned is that involving the community always takes the program to a whole new level.”

Over the course of the last fourth months, I had the privilege of working with The Green Scheme, a relatively new non-profit found after two DC natives, Ronnie and Joelle, realized that there was a lack of awareness about environment that existed in the DC community. They wanted to influence the way people thought about their health in relation to the environment. Some of their main programs involve teaching kids about gardening, nutrition, entrepreneurship and healthy living.

I had never heard of The Green Scheme until one of my professors talked about it, and hence I didn’t know how arduously the organization tried to involve the community in the whole process of engaging them to live a healthier life. I mostly worked with their Code Green Program, which is an afterschool program to get kids involved in gardening.

I remember accompanying the President, Ronnie, to a regional school garden summit, earlier in the semester. Attending the event made me realize how the community members also was heavily involved and interested in our Code Green Program. I remember many teachers, and school administrators asking for suggestions and ways to get involved in our program. Later on, I contacted many of the schools that showed an interest in our program and handed over the school’s information to my director, so they can collaborate and start the process. My biggest challenge was that I didn’t completely know the importance of school gardens and the impact it had on students. I didn’t realize that school gardens contributed to qualities such as leadership, creativity, sense of care, and the willingness to protect the environment and foster healthy living.

Obviously, I have heard of many schools in DC having gardens, but I never witnessed the support they had both from the school and the community until I started volunteering for The Green Scheme. Another challenge was to get in touch with many of the schools (there were around 137 in the DMV area). Though they were interested, there wasn’t enough information about the schools online, which made it hard to get in touch with them to start the process of involving them in the Code Green Program. However, I really admire our team for their persistence and patience. They even challenged me to get in touch with many of the schools, even if the information wasn’t directly available. It shows that they really try to get involved in the community and they want the community to have an equal say and chance in the program.

The expectations included that I was there, either virtually or physically, and that I was able to complete my assignments within the expected deadline. As a public health student, I was expected to contribute ideas and help the team move forward, such as when it comes to social marketing.

It connects to Health Communications very smoothly. Right now, we are trying to efficiently advertise our program to more clients. In Health Communications, we talked extensively about the right material, font, word choices and the appropriate platform to start the campaign. We also talked about theories such a health belief model, which would be helpful in starting the campaign. This way, we already know the potential barriers, threats, severity and benefits when it comes to schools being able to get involved in our program.

Though I haven’t been working with The Green Scheme for that long, one thing I learned is that involving the community always takes the program to a whole new level. If there is support from people around us, there is a higher chance of our work being adopted and supported in the community; hence, higher chances of meeting the goals.

Stephanie Abreu, Latin American Youth Center

“Being able to openly speak Spanish in a work environment may seem like such a little perk but in reality it… made me realize that this is the type of work environment I want to be a part of in the future”

Growing up in New Jersey in a under-served, predominantly Latino community while also being privileged enough to attend private schools, I was able to witness some of the best and not so great aspects of both worlds. My entire life my mother worked very hard to shelter me from the Latino immigrant population surrounding us because she feared exposure to the“ghetto” culture thriving in the community would lead me down a path of drugs, teen pregnancy,dropping out of school, and behavioral issues. While I have always appreciated her efforts to give me the best education possible by putting me in intellectually stimulating environments, I never agreed with her tactics of shutting out the people in our community. Despite her wishes, I was still exposed to it through other family members and was able to see first-hand the ways in which many youth struggled to succeed and stay on a prosperous path.

When I arrived at American University, my goal was to find a way to involve myself more in the Latino youth community in order to use my education to contribute to those in need of guidance and aid. This semester, my wonderful professor Dr. Jane Palmer took me under her wing and introduced me to the Community Service-Learning Program where I would be able to dive deep into communities of my choice to help foster change and growth. Through her I was able to work for Latin American Youth Center, where I am currently interning. Their mission is to provide beneficial programs that empower their youth to grow socially, academically, and professionally. They help under-served communities just like the one I grew up in and serve over 4,000 youth and families through centers, school-based sites, and public charter schools in the Maryland and DC area.

At LAYC, so far, I have been able to contribute 25.00 hours of service working with their program evaluation department known as ETO (Efforts to Outcomes). There I have been able to evaluate their teen pregnancy program, after school program, safe housing program, job readiness program and many more. While I have not directly worked with youth at LAYC, I have been able to aid their staff in evaluating the reach and effectiveness of their programs. Working with their multicultural staff has also been very rewarding and has given me a sense of home.

Being able to openly speak Spanish in a work environment may seem like such a little perk but in reality it has helped me bond with the staff members and made me realize that this is the type of work environment I want to be a part of in the future. I am so grateful for this experience and will continue to do what I can to help uplift my people and other under-served individuals.

Lizzie Allen, Justice Policy Institute

“Justice Policy Institute’s work is deeply important and consequential”

My name is Lizzie Allen and I am an American Studies major. The class in which I am participating in CSLP for an additional credit is called “Poverty and Culture.” Poverty and Culture examines the historical and contemporary causes of poverty as well as its consequences — on individual families as well as larger communities and American society as a whole. To add to what I am learning in class and to gain a deeper, more hands-on understanding of poverty and its widespread consequences, I chose to work with Justice Policy Institute (JPI).


JPI is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on criminal justice reform. JPI both conducts research and seeks to influence and inform legislation and public policy. The organization aims to tackle and educate on every aspect of what informs whether a person becomes incarcerated or not: this includes educational inequities, income inequality, immigration issues, racial injustice, and mental healthcare. For example, JPI has written extensive reports on how the practice of cash bail preys upon low-income people and how the school to prison pipeline is the result of inequitable schools and wealth disparities. Unsurprisingly, all of the aforementioned issues are inexplicably linked and tied to poverty.


My work with JPI has consisted mostly of administrative support, though I will soon get to visit a correctional facility to see first-hand the impact of the criminal justice system. Specifically, my project with JPI has been building a large database of policy and legislative contacts and advocates in the state of Maryland. Although my present work is not necessarily “in the trenches,” so to speak, much of it has been completed remotely, I have nevertheless learned a lot about how a nonprofit operates as well as the network of allies in criminal justice reform. As I have built the database I have been surprised to see how vast a network of allies there is in this type of work. This has been heartening in a cause that is often otherwise gloomy. My project with JPI has also emphasized the importance of the “little things.” Once completed, the database will ultimately be hugely helpful in JPI’s cause. In conclusion, my expectations of working with JPI have largely been met.


Finally, the connections between JPI’s mission and the themes discussed in Poverty & Culture are often very plainly evident. The factors that contribute to whether or not someone is incarcerated or has an interaction with the criminal justice system is heavily dependent on one’s wealth. For example, systematic racism debating back to slavery and Jim Crow has significantly decreased the wealth of black Americans — therefore African Americans are more likely to attend heavily policed, under performing schools as well as not be able to afford cash bail. Moreover, those who are mentally ill and without sufficient support and care are also more likely to be incarcerated. Numerous consequences of poverty are often the reason why a person interacts with the criminal justice system.


Justice Policy Institute’s work is deeply important and consequential. I have learned so much about the connection between my courses themes and JPI’s work, and I definitely feel that I have a more thorough understanding because of it.

Samantha Francucci, The Grassroot Project

“With the help of CSLP and my health promotion class this semester I was really able to see a health promotion strategy in action and that it is a field I am really passionate about…”

My name is Samm Francucci and I am a current Junior at American. I am studying Elementary Education with a double minor in Special Education and Health Promotion. I am connecting this CSLP credit with my HLTH-240 Introduction to Health Promotion class taught by Professor Gan. This semester the organization I am working with is The Grassroot Project.

TGP is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C that trains student-athletes, like me, to provide sexual health education to partnered charter and public middle school sixth-grade students through sports-based games. The overall mission of this wonderful organization is to bring awareness and knowledge to the youth of D.C about prevalent issues such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, characteristics of a healthy relationship, what consent is, and how to be / what is resilience. The schools that TGP partners with have the lack of resources needed to dedicate a class on health education so that is where we come in!

This semester with TGP I have done a handful of things. At the beginning of September, I along with the five other summer interns were able to design and facilitate an intensive 4-day, 16 hours, sexual health training, which graduated 33 new volunteer student-athletes for the Fall programs. Over the course of the four days, we were giving these new coaches tools they would need moving forward such as knowledge about the community and school population of the programs, basic knowledge on HIV, facilitate skills, and a run through of the TGP curriculum. This was a great opportunity for us to showcase all the hard work put in over the summer. The training is also a great chance for us to connect with other student-athletes from American as well as Georgetown, George Washington, and Howard University. This semester I was also able to be in a program at Center City PCS, Brightwood Campus. Each week I got to travel and hang out with a group of amazing sixth-graders and give them the sexual health education they would otherwise not have without TGP. We did many different energizers, played so many fun games, and had a lot of great discussions about important topics. The students were always so engaged, laughed, a lot asked some really insightful questions, and were always so happy when we came.

I try to go into every program with an open mind and not have many expectations of the students since every school and every class is so different. This semester we had some behavioral issues such as disengagement. Most often than not, these students have never talked about things such as sex before, especially not in a school setting, so they are always very jittery the first few times we bring it up. My main focus this semester was having more personal conversations with the students. It is common to see a student disengage because they are uncomfortable about what we are talking about. One of the challenges we face as facilitators are keeping these students still engaged so they are able to get the information. If one of my co-facilitators was running the game, I would make it a point for me to chat with students who I feel their focus is wandering off elsewhere. I had some great one on one conversations with a handful of students and were able to get to know them better.

I was able to make several connections between my HLTH-240 class and TGP. My class was really able to show me how much of a health promotion strategy TGP is and how it encompasses all the core components of what health promotion focuses on. For those who don’t know what health promotion is, it works with /is concerned about individual and community health. The focuses consist of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health, moving beyond the focus of the individual behavior and towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions, and lastly, creating a “culture of health”. For example, with the help of TGP, we empower our students to feel as though they are able to make choices regarding their sexual health by informing them about the “ABCs” (Abstain, Be Mutually Faithful, and Condom-ise) as ways to avoid HIV/ unwanted pregnancy, key aspects of what a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship looks like, etc. This enables them to take control of their health and give them the tools to improve their health. Also, over the summer I was able to collect qualitative data of the availability and nature of socio-economic facilities in communities around our schools, the purpose of this was to inform our students about the resources readily available to them if they ever needed them. TGP also has a culture around sexual health and that is encouraging our students to share the information they learn with people in their community and to continue to have conversations around the topics they learned through TGP.

With the help of CSLP and my health promotion class this semester I was really able to see a health promotion strategy in action and that it is a field I am really passionate about and want to pursue in the future!


Jasmin Chan, Asian American LEAD

“This experience has shown me that great things will happen when I least expect it.”

It’s summer and I’m in the middle of planning out my schedule for my first semester at American University. I have no idea how to plan a schedule, and I have no idea what classes I need to take. I look at the suggested courses for students who are undecided in School of Public Affairs and just start searching the courses it tells me to. I pick some general courses, I register, and now I wait for the school year to start. Great things come when one is not expecting it. My first semester classes are a perfect example of this. Within the first two weeks of school, I felt that I didn’t have any great expectations when it came to my classes. I just felt that, maybe, I chose the wrong cluster of courses. This is where I was wrong.

I found inspiration in my sociology class which focuses on the power, privilege and inequality in the country. I chose to do the Community Service-Learning Program for my sociology class with the organization Asian American LEAD. Asian American LEAD is an organization that focuses on educational development in low-income areas with underserved youth. Originally, AALEAD was an organization that focused on Asian Pacific American youth however, they focus on youth from any background. AALEAD focuses on leadership, empowerment, and self-confidence. I chose AALEAD because I am an Asian American girl who grew up in a town that didn’t focus on building my character, self-confidence, or empowerment; instead my school focused on statistics around graduation. They only cared about if students graduated and went to college. I feel as though my childhood and my Asian roots were not supported in my town; that is why I chose to learn through service with an organization that not only focuses on educational development, but also focuses on individual support and character empowerment in youth.

I am doing my service-learning at Bancroft Elementary School on Mondays. AALEAD has an after-school program where I generally help the students with their homework, and then observe their lesson plan of the week. Prior to starting, I expected to really observe the students’ lives through conversation and activities. I also expected that I would come across eye-opening situations that will emphasize the power, privilege and inequality in the community. One challenge I have met while at Bancroft is that it is a dual language school; students spend half their class time in English and the other half in Spanish. I do not know any Spanish so it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to help them with their homework in Spanish. However, I am able to participate by contributing to their weekly lessons. The students in the after school program get to tell the teacher what they would like to learn and the teacher will choose the curriculum for the week based on their responses. This is an example of how the students are able to take ownership, and demonstrate leadership in their education.

This service-learning opportunity has given me a new perspective when it comes to the power, privilege and inequality in our communities. In my sociology class, I learned concrete definitions that explained abstract general conceptions I already had. For example I knew the concept of privilege, but once I started doing the community service I understood privilege. People with privilege do not see their privilege until they experience it. I realized I am one of those people. I have never thought twice about the quality of water in my schools-high school or college. I assumed that water in the United States is safe to drink. When I visited the bathroom at Bancroft I saw many signs that told students and staff that the water from the sinks is not water you should drink. This is a small detail of privilege, but it stuck with me because I was never concerned about the quality of water whether it is from sinks, or fountains. I have also learned the power that governments have over inequality in communities. Governments have the power to gentrify low income areas. The area where Bancroft Elementary School is located is in the process of a big flip. Houses are more expensive, Bancroft is newly renovated and the area is made to attract wealthier families. As I previously said, originally AALEAD was a program focused on Asian Americans. Due to the government’s power to gentrify the area, many Asian Americans that previously were living in the area were forced moved away from DC because of the cost of living. Gentrification is something I had no concept of until I got to school. This experience has showed me the power of the government to create inequality throughout communities.

Before coming to American University I felt that I had no expectations for my classes. I did not feel that my classes were really going to benefit me in the future; I for sure thought that I was just fulfilling my general education requirements. I was very wrong to have come into school thinking that. Through the CSLP program that was introduced to me in my sociology class, I was given an opportunity to immerse myself into a community while also applying new knowledge from the classroom. This has so far been an enriching experience that has allowed me to gain a new perspective in life. Considering how much I enjoy public policies and, now sociology, I feel that I am a step closer to figuring out what I want to do as a career in the future. This experience has also showed me that great things will happen when I least expect it.